First, I am so sorry. There is nothing quite like losing the foundation from underneath you. Please know that you are not alone… though there will be days that go by where you feel as though you are. Please know that there is a community here for you when you are ready. Give yourself time to grieve however you need to and know that it is okay to receive help and assistance (every one of us will need to ask for help at one point in our lives). Try and find a few trusted friends/family members that can be your pillars of support so that they can assist in carrying some of the weight on your shoulders.
I like to think about these pillars as the foundational bracings like the new corners of a foundation you are rebuilding. It is crucial to find those you can depend on, who love you and are able to show up and hold space for you during this time. The most important foundations I found supported me were:
Emotional Support Pillar: Someone I can talk to, cry with/scream with, who can hold space (if you need support in this area you can reach out to the “Warm Line” set up with professionals and volunteers supporting fire victims ( 707)-565-2652. This free and private warm line is available seven days a week from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. Service in Spanish is also available as well as telephone interpretation for other languages.
Logistical Support Pillar:Someone who can support you with the necessary next logistical steps: FEMA, Assistance, Home insurance, gofundme, are wonderful resources but when you are sleep deprived and grieving they can feel like a monumental mountain to climb. Find someone who can walk you through the steps- this could be an emergency advocate, social worker, or just a friend who can just sit with you and go through it one step at a time. Reach out to Rebekah Uccellini at firstname.lastname@example.org if you need support with this, she has volunteers able to assist and there are others stepping up who will be added to this list.
Nourishment Pillar: Someone who can be sure you are nourished- there are volunteers standing by, many meal services are activated and sometimes the basic things like nourishing will be the farthest thing from your mind. Here is a starting list of restaurants and meal services that are offering free meals in Santa Cruz County and beyond.
Movement Pillar: Having someone who can help you move in all the ways there are to move. This might initially look like transportation support, giving you rides to where you need to go. It might also look like having a person who can get you out… moving in fresh air, seeing a different vantage point as it becomes very easy to become isolated and to only see the vantage point from being stuck inside with all the things you are facing… movement during this time can be deeply shifting. Getting into nature, having a walk somewhere with fresh clean air, working out, having a hike. .
Immediately After You Lose Your Home, or the Use of Your Home, after a Fire
1. Ensure the safety of yourself, your family, and your pets. Do not attempt to go to your home site until it is deemed safe to do so. See Some safety tips
2. Immediately start looking for housing; let all your family/friends know you are safe and that you are looking for housing and could use their support. If anyone is able to take on one of these things below- many hands make for light work. Take the load off wherever you can.
3. Get a hotel voucher at any of the shelters at the intake table so you can go to a hotel for free for 7 days. The Fairgrounds is open now with vouchers and it will take only 10 minutes to sign up.
4. Post what you need on the Santa Cruz County Fire Assistance
5. Contact your homeowners insurance or renters insurance if you have it. See more info in Part B
6. Get at least two notebooks – One to record all insurance-related items, and one to record everything else (phone calls, mileage, housing searches, contact phone numbers and email address of friends, neighbors, government agencies, insurance, etc, even if you have a smart phone).
7. Medications/Medical Devices: Contact your doctor/insurance for replacements. Most health plans include free replacement of these items after a disaster, but not all their employees know this
8. Take 3 deep breaths. You are alive, thank goodness.
9. Drink some water, nourish (if you need support with meals click here)
10.Get a PO Box, use that address immediately, and start mail forwarding
11.If you have insurance, contact your agent to: 1) get a $5k-30k advance for immediate needs; 2) start your claim; 3) ask for a complete copy of your policy (sometimes it is the adjuster who can get this for you)
12.LAC/DRC/Shelters – Register with FEMA and Red Cross immediately. See below for more.
13.Replace or get a smartphone, laptop, or other smart device as necessary.
14.Some fire victims have felt it is helpful to Create a new email address just for post-fire issues (that way it is not interrupting their work and personal emails and easy to find everything in one place (see more below).
15.Consider getting a credit card that earns miles or points … you’ll be spending a lot more than you expect in a short period.
16.Send your non-fire-survivor friends and families this info: A Message to Friends & Family of Fire Survivors
○ Keep school(s) informed of contact information and living location.
○ Create some normalcy for children in the form of a few toys they used to have, favorite books, usual foods, etc. Order on Amazon and/or tell friends that’s what you need. A familiar bedtime book can make a difference.
○ Don’t hesitate to get counseling for children and teens. They may take a while to communicate how sad, scared or worried they are. Getting help sooner is better, before the trauma sets in.
○ Become informed around safety precautions with smoke and debris toxins. Developing bodies are more susceptible.
First Couple of Weeks – FEMA / Red Cross / LAC / DRC
1. At a shelter, online, or the LAC or DRC (defined below), even if you don’t think you qualify or need it, register with: FEMA (federally declared disaster); SBA (state or federally declared disaster); Red Cross; online apps available. Most of the aid coming in will use these lists as a point of contact and will help to ensure that you don’t get left out of anything. If possible, try to register for FEMA before your first visit to the LAC or DRC.
2. Federally declared disaster areas: usually, a Local Assistance Center (“LAC”) or Disaster Assistance Center (“DRC”) will be established as a one-stop shop to deal with Federal agencies (passports, social security, etc); State agencies (DMV, etc.); Local agencies (Assessor, utilities, etc.). Local news and town halls will announce their establishment. See Camp, Hill, Woolsey Fires Official Disaster Relief Center information
First Couple of Weeks – Notifications (Friends and family can help with some of this)
1. Cancel electric, gas/propane, water, phone, cable, pest control, gardener, pool sweep, landlord, etc.
2. Cancel or change newspaper delivery address.
3. Call other insurance providers (cars, specialty items), as necessary.
4. Notify employer, babysitters, family, friends, etc., of new contact information.
5. Change your Voter Registration mailing address.
First Couple of Weeks and Ongoing – Social Media
1. (With your newly created recovery-related email address), join as many social media pages as you can stand with that new email address … sorry to say that social media has been more effective in some ways (keep your current email address for friends and family).
2. Join NextDoor, FB, Twitter, etc., for neighborhood groups, insureds groups, fire-related news or support, rebuilding information, city and county government recovery information, etc.
First Couple of Weeks and Ongoing – Network
1. Strength and Comfort in Numbers. You are not going through this alone. Although everyone’s experience is going to be different, the commonalities are where you will find strength.
2. Get involved in your community. Form or join a neighborhood asap. Start by reaching out to as many neighbors as you have contact information for and spread the word. Start a FB private group or Google Group, etc., to create a way for your neighborhood to stay connected and provide essential recovery information.
3. Let people do things for you. Do you have a friend that you can send to the store to buy you some basic clothes or comfort foods? Let them do it – they want to help and you don’t need to spend time doing these errands. (The “fun” of shopping is gone…it quickly becomes a chore because you don’t want a new shirt, you want the one that you always liked to wear but now it’s gone and you are sad/mad.) Ask them to help you do post-fire “chores,” invite you over for a meal, help with your personal property inventory, pick up your kids from school, etc.
First Few Weeks – Visit Your Home Site, Possibly Sift, Take Pictures
1. Safety First. Do not go to your home site until it is deemed safe to.
2. Do not touch anything with your bare hands; your home site is now a toxic, hazardous area.
3. You do not have to visit or sift, BUT if you don’t visit, ask someone to safely take pictures of your home site prior to any sifting or clean-up; take many pictures from multiple angles (for insurance).
4. If you do intend on visiting, taking pictures, or sifting: before you go, DO NOT SKIMP ON GETTING AND WEARING: Sturdy boots (try Payless Shoe Source or Goodwill for cheap and disposable shoes); goggles; N95 or better respirator masks; heavy pants and long sleeve shirts (try Goodwill since you will need to discard these clothes); hat/hair covering; heavy work gloves (not plastic or latex, etc). Wear new ones of these things every day you go. In addition, wear disposable heavy duty boot covers and coveralls if desired. You can get a bucket or two to carry found items and small garden tools to sift. Wear N95 masks even if only visiting. Those masks would be discarded at least every day, if not more often. See these safety tips: https: https://ww2.arb.ca.gov/protecting-yourself-wildfire-smoke
5. Do not endanger yourself. Children and any health-vulnerable people are urged to not go to burn zones. Healthy people may not want to go to burn zones.
First Few Weeks – SBA Loans
1. You may need to be registered with FEMA first; there usually exists a deadline for applying.
2. You will likely be told to apply.
3. You should apply even if you don’t think you need it.
4. You will likely apply because you may be uninsured, underinsured, fear being underinsured, or will need a bridge loan (because your mortgage lender will keep control of the amount of your insurance payouts equal to your mortgage balance).
5. You will likely be rejected, given a small amount, or given a large amount and then have it taken away. Or be told that your insurance coverage is enough (!).
6. You will likely want to not bother with a “reconsideration” because you have too much on your plate or you think they’ll just say no, or feel convinced that you don’t qualify.
7. I strongly suggest that you consider biting the bullet and spending the time on the reconsideration; it may be easier than you think and worth it. Contact your US Representative’s local office for help. If they don’t know how to help, have them call Rep. Huffman’s office or Rep. Thompson’s office to learn how to deal with this.
8. We experienced all of the above BUT many of us did give up hope and didn’t pursue it. We didn’t know that reconsideration might really work.
Ongoing – Resources
1. Check out Helping Handbook: A Resource for Individuals, Families, and Small Businesses by Morrison Foerster, a large law firm not interested in soliciting your business. Tons of resources, contacts, etc.
2. Your City and / or County will likely establish a disaster-recovery webpage.
3. Attend recovery-related Town Halls held by government agencies.
4. Contact your local LegalAid and attend their workshops. You do not need to have a “legal problem” to get help with housing, FEMA applications, and other post-disaster questions and issues.
5. Emotional Recovery Resources (check your City or County recovery website for resources specific to your area)
6. Government Entities. You may need to call more than one person, agency, etc.
US Congressmember, for example:
Federal issues such as telecommunications (eg ATT, Comcast – ps they shouldn’t be charging you for destroyed equipment–it’s just good business sense)
SBA (see above)
Become familiar with and invite one of their field reps to regularly attend your neighborhood meetings.
State Senator, for example:
Insurance if contacting the California Department of Insurance isn’t enough.
Local Government. I’ve found that I’ve had to call around to find the correct department or the folks willing or able to help. And sometimes it’s from surprising places. One place/office I thought I could get help from was unwilling/unable. Another one who I thought was the wrong person, turned out to be the right person. County and City staff can sometimes help you with organizing your neighborhood, so reach out to them.
Ongoing – Emotional Health
1. Put the metaphorical “oxygen mask” on yourself first, then on those who depend on you.
2. Eat ~ Hydrate ~ Move ~ Sleep (eye roll) ~ Spend time with loved ones – I can’t do everything on this list every day. I don’t beat myself up if I don’t. I use it as a focus point, not as more pressure. I didn’t bother with trying to get more sleep in the first six months. I knew it would eventually come.
3. Emotional Recovery Resources (check your City or County recovery website for resources specific to your area)
4. If you join FB, NextDoor, neighborhood (email) groups with other fire survivors, you may find some solace in the sense of community, even if the topics are about rebuilding, insurance, or other topics not related to emotional support.
5. Seek out FB and community organizations offering emotional support.
6. Everyone deals with this stuff differently. Be accepting of yourself. Not everyone will grieve on the same timeline and the same way. You may feel that you have moved past the worst of the emotion and then later have a time period where you feel depressed or cry for no direct reason. Everyone processes differently and just let your emotions process, when they feel ready and don’t judge yourself that you should be “over” a certain stage by now or expect that you might not have relapses where you are revisiting your loss and grief.
7. I know you are sick of answering some of the well-meaning, ignorant, or outright ridiculous questions and comments. Truly. We know.
8. And sometimes waking up is the best you can do today.
What is FEMA? FEMA coordinates the Federal Government’s role in preparing for, preventing, mitigating the effects of, responding to, and recovering from all domestic disasters. SBA, on the other hand, is the Federal Government’s primary source of money for the long-term rebuilding of disaster-damaged private property. SBA helps homeowners, renters, businesses, and non-profit organizations repair or replace real estate, personal property, machinery and equipment, inventory, and business assets that have been damaged or destroyed in a declared disaster. These disaster loans cover uninsured and uncompensated losses and do not duplicate benefits of other agencies or organizations.
You can apply in the following ways:
❏ On your smartphone at m.fema.gov
❏ Constituents may call the registration phone number at 1-800-621-3362; those who have a speech disability or hearing loss and use TTY, call 1-800-462-7585 directly; for those who use 711 or Video Relay Service (VRS), call 1-800-621-3362. 4 a.m. to 8 p.m. Pacific Daylight Time seven days a week
Please have the following information available when you call or are ready to apply online
❏ A phone number and a reliable alternate in case FEMA needs to call you back;
❏ Address of the damaged property;
❏ Social Security number;
❏ Bank account information (or direct deposit information);
❏ Insurance information (if you have insurance);
❏ Brief description of damages;
❏ Current mailing address;
❏ Pen and paper to write down your registration number.
❏ Government disaster assistance only covers basic needs and usually will not compensate you for your entire loss. If you have insurance, the government may help pay for basic needs not covered under your insurance policy.
❏ Disaster-related assistance may include:
❏ Rental payments for temporary housing for those whose homes are unlivable;
❏ Grants for home repairs and replacement of essential household items;
❏ Unemployment payments for workers who temporarily lost jobs because of the disaster and do not qualify for state benefits (self-employed);
❏ Low-interest loans to cover residential losses not fully compensated by insurance;
❏ Crisis counseling for those traumatized by the disaster
❏ Advisory assistance for legal veterans’ benefits and social security matters.
Small Business Administration (SBA) loans
SBA loans may also be available to individuals and businesses to repair or replace disaster-damaged property, inventory, and supplies. Homeowners and renters may also be eligible for SBA loans to repair or replace disaster-related damages to homes or personal property. After registering with FEMA, businesses and homeowners that would like to apply for SBA loans can do so online at:
❏ People who are out of work due to the fires may be eligible for unemployment benefits. You can file for unemployment benefits online:
❏ https://eapply4ui.edd.ca.gov/. You can also file by phone, Monday – Friday, 8:00 am – 12:00 pm by calling: English: 1-800-300-5616 Spanish: 1-800-326-8937
Replacing Lost Documents:
If you’ve lost important documents or identification in the fires, many can be replaced. You can learn more about how to replace these common documents by contacting the agencies directly:
❏ California Driver’s License: Phone: 800-777-0133 / Visit a California DMV office to complete an application. Replacement license forms must be delivered in person.
❏ Green cards: Phone: 800-375-5283 / Website: www.uscis.gov
❏ Medicare cards: Phone: 800-772-1213; (TTY) 800-325-0778 Website: www.ssa.gov/medicare 5
❏ Military records: Phone: 866-272-6272 Website: www.archives.gov/contact
❏ Passport: Phone:1-877-487-2778; 888-874-7793 (TTY) / Website: www.travel.state.gov
❏ Social Security Card: Phone: 800-772-1213; (TTY) 800-325-0778 Website: www.ssa.gov
❏ U.S. Savings Bonds: Phone: 1-844-284-2676 Website: www.treasurydirect.gov
❏ U.S. tax returns: Phone: 800-829-1040 Website: www.irs.gov
Resources and link sources:
This page built by Coffee Park Survivors (from the Sonoma County fires) is full of helpful resources including rebuilding resources.