How Have Wildfires Affected You? Tell Us Your Story

Fire tore through the Sepulveda Basin in Los Angeles in October 2019. Photo by Kevin Lendio.

This story was produced in partnership with Columbia Journalism Investigations, the Center for Public Integrity and the California Health Report.

Read the Spanish version. Lea la versión en español.

Every year, weather-related disasters ravage communities across the United States, creating traumatic scenes that are increasingly familiar. 

In California, we now regularly see wildfires rip through communities, forcing mass evacuations, devastating homes and sometimes claiming lives. And this summer, on top of fire season, we have COVID-19.

Elsewhere in the country, people have faced historic floods, catastrophic hurricanes and record rains in recent years. Since 2010, the U.S. has had 37 wildfires, hurricanes and floods causing at least a billion dollars in damage each. That’s more than any previous decade since 1980, when the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration started tallying the events.

These disasters also take a toll on mental health. Scientists say rates of depression, anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD, skyrocket following disasters. One survey of Hurricane Katrina survivors found that a third had mood disorders, and suicidal thoughts more than doubled. Six months after Hurricane Maria, 40 percent of Puerto Ricans showed signs of PTSD, another survey estimated. Many scientific studies suggest similar outcomes after individual wildfires and floods.

That’s why we want to hear your story. 

Little is known about how widespread these issues may be, or how effectively federal, state and local agencies respond to the mental health needs of disaster survivors. There’s even less information about how the spread of the new coronavirus affects people who’ve lived through previous disasters.

The Center for Public Integrity, Columbia Journalism Investigations and 10 local newsrooms are investigating the mental health needs of disaster survivors and how the government is responding.

Are you still trying to rebuild your life after a natural disaster? How has the coronavirus pandemic impacted your efforts?

If you have been affected by a wildfire, hurricane or flood in the last 10 years, or if you are a mental health professional studying disasters or working with survivors from that period, you can help by filling out the form below. A better understanding of disaster impacts could assist public and private entities preparing for and responding to future emergencies.

• This survey will take about 15 minutes.

• You can choose to allow a reporter to contact you.

• We will not publish what you tell us in this survey without your permission. All personal information is confidential.

If you have been emotionally affected by a disaster and wish to seek confidential support, you can call the federal Disaster Distress Helpline at 800-985-5990 and speak with a professional trained in crisis counseling.

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