Note: ModernJeepers should take heed of this valuable insight from Don Amador into the aftermath of devastating wildfires. Our access back into these burned-out and devastated areas can wait until we get the “all clear” sign.
With post-fire assessments underway on the Mendocino Complex and Carr Fires in California, it is important for the OHV community to be patient as agency staff plan for both contract and volunteer recovery projects, and to appreciate there may be some emotional trauma in play as well.
Psychological Affects on People
Having spent most of my personal life and professional career recreating and working on federal OHV recreation areas impacted by the aforementioned wildfires, I find myself writing this article as a way for me to cope with, and process the devastating long-term effects these fires have had on lands that I and others deeply treasure.
The American Psychological Association (APA) states that trauma is an emotional response to a terrible event like an accident, rape or natural disaster. Immediately after the event, shock and denial are typical. Longer term reactions include unpredictable emotions, flashbacks, strained relationships and even physical symptoms like headaches or nausea.
APA goes on to say that accidents or wildfires are typically unexpected, sudden and overwhelming. For many people, there are no outwardly visible signs of physical injury, but there can be nonetheless an emotional toll. It is common for people who have experienced disaster to have strong emotional reactions.
A Call for Patience
Outdoor recreationists and agency staff are often very passionate about their access to, and relationship with, the land. It’s understandable that career agency personnel on the affected unit might find themselves in some stage of shock after battling the fire and seeing their life’s work go up in smoke.
Trail enthusiasts may also have trouble processing how the wildfire has impacted their favorite route network and/or camping opportunities.
Health professionals at the Mayo Clinic state that Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a mental health condition that’s triggered by a terrifying event — either experiencing it or witnessing it. Symptoms may include flashbacks, nightmares and severe anxiety, as well as uncontrollable thoughts about the event.
The Mayo Clinic also states that most people who go through traumatic events may have temporary difficulty adjusting and coping, but with time and good self-care, they usually get better. If the symptoms get worse, last for months or even years, and interfere with your day-to-day functioning, you may have PTSD.
Historic Fire Season in California
As the 2018 record-breaking wildfire season continues probably until the rains come, I believe it is important for the greater OHV community and our partners to understand that we might be suffering from Post Wildfire Traumatic Stress Disorder (PWTSD).
At least for me, I have found the posting of stories and pictures of my experiences in the affected areas to be therapeutic. Talking with my friends, colleagues, and partners are other ways that I cope with PWTSD.
I know that many OHVers are chomping at the bit to help with volunteer post-wildfire recovery projects. However, it is important to exercise patience until agency staff has completed their assessments and planning efforts and to understand that they – and even you – may be in some stage of the PWTSD recovery process.