Rising from the Ashes

Coping with the Anniversary of the Camp Fire

Nov. 8, 2018. It’s a date Butte County residents will never forget as the Camp Fire swept through the North State. Almost one year later, the anniversary of the devastation nears, and you may be experiencing feelings of anxiety, fear, sadness or even post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

That’s normal with traumatic events. “Certain smells, sights or sounds can trigger emotional distress in the brain,” said Patty Principi, an occupational therapist for Enloe Behavioral Health. The smell of smoke, an orange-red sky and bumper-to-bumper traffic can take people right back to that day, and cause physical and emotional reactions.

Even people not directly affected can experience PTSD because of “vicarious trauma,” added psychiatrist Scott Nichols, M.D., the medical director of Enloe Behavioral Health. Caregivers there have seen several patients with PTSD since the fire. It makes sense. Many people were evacuated, others hosted people who were displaced and some lost loved ones. But you can help yourself and your loved ones cope.


 The smell of smoke, an orange-red sky and bumper-to-bumper traffic can take people right back to that day, and cause physical and emotional reactions," said Patty Principi, an occupational therapist for Enloe Behavioral Health.

Ways to Find Healing

Be prepared: Planning for the anniversary can help minimize its impact. Let yourself experience your emotions, and be gentle with yourself and others. If you think attending a community event in remembrance of the Camp Fire will help you, go. If you think it would be too much and prefer to be alone, that’s OK. Also keep in mind that the fire will likely be on the news and watching repeated images can increase distress. So be mindful and regulate your exposure, as well as that of your loved ones.

Talk it out: It can be the best medicine. Sharing allows you to process your feelings so they don’t fester and delay healing. Find a trusted, caring listener a friend, family member, counselor or church member to talk about your emotions and memories.

Start a new tradition: This can help you heal when words aren’t enough. Plan a potluck with others to honor the tragedy you experienced, or plant a tree, read a poem or gather with friends.

Take care of you: A healthy body increases your ability to cope. Get plenty of sleep in the upcoming days, eat well, and avoid alcohol and drugs. Relaxation techniques like deep, diaphragmatic breathing and meditation can also help. Studies show they calm your brain and reduce blood pressure.  

Do something for someone else: Helping others allows us to find meaning in our struggle. Simple gestures such as a pat on the arm, a hug or phone call can make a huge difference — for you and for those who are suffering. You can also donate to a local charity or shelter, deliver dinner, or offer to babysit for others during this challenging time. 

“The important thing is to figure out what would be helpful for you,” Nichols said. “And remember that what might work for someone else might be the absolute wrong thing for you.”

Help Is Available


 If there’s more than a two-week period when someone is not functioning well, if they’re having difficulty making decisions, or are unable to go to work or carry out the activities of daily living, it’s time to seek help," said psychiatrist Scott Nichols, M.D.

These strategies may not work for everyone. If you notice signs of avoidance, pervasive numbness, intrusive memories, or unwanted flashbacks in yourself or loved ones, take note. Additional help may be needed. The same is true if you or a loved one regresses. For instance, if a 10-year-old child acts as if he or she is 7, Nichols said.

“If there’s more than a two-week period when someone is not functioning well, if they’re having difficulty making decisions, or are unable to go to work or carry out the activities of daily living, it’s time to seek help,” he said.

Comments such as “I wish I weren’t here” or “Life isn’t worth living” are also red flags that someone is struggling.

That’s when professionals can help. Caregivers at Enloe Behavioral Health are available 24/7 at (530) 332-5250 and can provide free assessments. If individuals don’t meet admission criteria, they will be provided with local resources for assistance.

The Growing Place is also available for free counseling sessions for Camp Fire survivors, ages 5 years and up. Call (530) 588-0448 or visit tgplace.org for details.

Enloe's Day of Remembrance

Join Enloe Medical Center as we reflect on the Camp Fire’s impact, honor our brave first responders and inspire our path forward. Caregivers will assemble a time capsule and you can write a message of hope to be included.

When: Nov. 8 from 10-11 a.m.

Where: Enloe Park (corner of Sixth and Arcadian avenues), Chico

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