s
s
Sections
Sections
Subscribe
You've read 3 of 10 free articles this month.
Get unlimited access to SonomaNews.com, the Sonoma Index-Tribune eEdition and our mobile app for just $5.25 per month!
Already a subscriber?
You've read 6 of 10 free articles this month.
Get unlimited access to SonomaNews.com, the Sonoma Index-Tribune eEdition and our mobile app for just $5.25 per month!
Already a subscriber?
You've read all of your free articles this month.
Continue reading with unlimited access to SonomaNews.com, the Sonoma Index-Tribune eEdition and our mobile app for just $5.25 per month!
Already a subscriber?
We've got a special deal for readers like you.
Get unlimited access to SonomaNews.com, the Sonoma Index-Tribune eEdition and our mobile app for just $5.25 per month, and support community journalism!
Already a subscriber?
Thanks for reading! Why not subscribe?
Get unlimited access to SonomaNews.com, the Sonoma Index-Tribune eEdition and our mobile app for just $5.25 per month, and support community journalism!
Already a subscriber?
Want to keep reading? Subscribe today!
For just $5.25 per month, you can keep reading SonomaNews.com, the Sonoma Index-Tribune eEdition and our mobile, and support community journalism!
Already a subscriber?

Rebuilding Sonoma County: New training program seeks to help survivors of 2017 wildfires become more resilient

X

The "Follow This Story" feature will notify you when any articles related to this story are posted.

When you follow a story, the next time a related article is published — it could be days, weeks or months — you'll receive an email informing you of the update.

If you no longer want to follow a story, click the "Unfollow" link on that story. There's also an "Unfollow" link in every email notification we send you.

This tool is available only to subscribers; please make sure you're logged in if you want to follow a story.

Login

X

Please note: This feature is available only to subscribers; make sure you're logged in if you want to follow a story.

LoginSubscribe

How you can help

To learn more about the Sonoma Community Resilience Training initiative and apply for the program, visit the Center for Mind-Body Medicine. The initial training program will be held June 19-22 and the advanced training program will be held July 31-Aug. 3.

This story is part of a monthly series in 2019 chronicling the rebuilding efforts in Sonoma County’s four fire zones: Coffey Park, Fountaingrove, the greater Mark West area and Sonoma Valley. Read all of the Rebuild North Bay coverage here.

The mantra came to Laurel Quast in a dream: “Yes, this hurts,” she repeats. “I just have to figure out how to do life differently. I can do that.”

It’s from a dream the 56-year-old had the first night she and her husband spent in their rebuilt Coffey Park home.

It was the Saturday before Christmas, just over a year after it burned down in the Tubbs fire. In the dream, the left-handed Quast had somehow lost her right hand, and she kept bumping her bandaged wrist up against walls and doorways. It hurt some, but not much, and as a left-handed person, she knew she could get along without it.

“The dream reflected my reality,” she said. “Some very important things had been cut away in my life. ... It was a mantra of, kind of, ‘You can do this. You can figure this out. It will be OK.’”

The mantra has been one she’s repeated as wave after wave of grief has greeted her in her new home. The neighborhood is the same, except for the constant stream of construction trucks. Many of her neighbors are coming back. And the floor plan of their Monticello Court home is nearly identical to the one she and her husband, Gary Quast, moved into in March 1987.

But the emotions wash over her more readily now than they did before.

Back in their home, there is no longer the unending list of things to do, contractors to meet with, paperwork to file with the city.

“The way I would say it is, it feels like there was more space for that grief to emerge,” she said. “For me, since the fires, it was like I could only process so much of my grief at a time. It was almost like making the decision to put it off to the side.”

That feeling is likely something many survivors of the October 2017 firestorm can expect in 2019 as construction fades and they return to rebuilt homes, said Wendy Wheelwright, project manager for the county’s California HOPE crisis counseling program, which was started as part of FEMA’s response to the wildfires.

“Sometimes we put an emotion on pause so we can get through an event or a task, and it wouldn’t be unusual once that physical task is complete for a little bit of the backlog of emotions to resurface,” Wheelwright said. “I hear people say, ‘Well, I thought I was doing OK, but suddenly there’s all these feelings.’”

The concern from a mental health standpoint is that people will take that new wave of emotion, and respond to it by isolating themselves.

“It’s just something that we really pay attention to because connection is so healing and restorative, and isolation can lead to someone going into a full depression,” Wheelwright said

Those who have already moved into their rebuilds have reported an anxiety about sleeping in the same location again, a general feeling of not feeling safe, nightmares.

For Laurel Quast, that feeling of loss is brought on whenever she’s on the first floor of her new house, with its layout nearly identical to the old one, and she thinks to head upstairs to grab something — only to realize it burned in the fire.

How you can help

To learn more about the Sonoma Community Resilience Training initiative and apply for the program, visit the Center for Mind-Body Medicine. The initial training program will be held June 19-22 and the advanced training program will be held July 31-Aug. 3.

This story is part of a monthly series in 2019 chronicling the rebuilding efforts in Sonoma County’s four fire zones: Coffey Park, Fountaingrove, the greater Mark West area and Sonoma Valley. Read all of the Rebuild North Bay coverage here.

As a clinical social worker and psychotherapist, Quast is perhaps better equipped than most to recognize those feelings and the tendency to want to isolate, but even she has felt that way on occasion.

“It’s an urge to put up some protective walls,” she said. “To protect myself from the feeling of not being understood. The feeling that other people won’t get this.

“I get concerned that other people have moved on, and that people are kind of tired of us fire survivors needing support, and admittedly that’s an irrational thought, but it also can be true that there are people who are tired of hearing us talk about our experience. It’s messy. Both can be true.”

The Sonoma County Resilience Collaborative, a project of Santa Rosa Community Health, has launched a training program to help people effectively process those emotions and learn to self-heal.

The first round of the eight-day training program wrapped up this month, with 110 people participating, said Annemarie Brown, communications and grants development director for Santa Rosa Community Health. The Sonoma County Resilience Training is a train-the-trainer program, and is offered at no cost. It focuses on equipping people with self-care tools to address post-traumatic stress and build community ties. The first four days, participants go through the program themselves, while the second half of the program teaches them how to pass the training on to others.

“When we feel connected with our neighbors, with our community, even with local government and with businesses, we’re more likely to feel like we can recover from a disaster or a community trauma,” Brown said. “And we’re going to be more likely to stay.”

Another training program will take place in the summer at Roseland University Prep in Santa Rosa. Teachers and students, who might be unable to attend such an intensive training during the school year, are especially encouraged to apply.

Rincon Valley’s Tricia and Mike Siegel were among those to complete the first round of training in January.

Mike Siegel, a captain with the Santa Rosa Fire Department, came upon the training while researching post-traumatic stress techniques for firefighters. After attending an initial meeting to see whether it might be a good fit, the 49-year-old thought it was something he and his wife could do as a team. Their idea is that, together, they’ll be able to take what they learned and provide that same training for local firefighters and their family members.

“My husband was gone for eight days straight, and the first night we couldn’t get ahold of each other,” said Tricia Siegel, 47. “I do believe that it’s still being processed — there’s a lot to process mentally for the families. ... I hate to think of myself as someone who gets triggered by this stuff, but (with the November 2018 Camp fire) I was a little bit like, ‘Oh I don’t like these feelings. I want them to go away.’

“It’s the feeling of looking at your phone every five minutes for some type of alert. Seeing the smoke. I thought to myself, this is happening to me physiologically, and how can I bring it back so I don’t get wound up?”

Mike Siegel, who has been with Santa Rosa Fire since 1995, said that since the fires, he’s seen an increase in divorce rates and other stress-related issues among fire service members. Teaching the community to not isolate with those feelings of stress, to not let them simmer, and instead learn to process them in a healthy way is what the Siegels hope to provide through the training.

“I think in order to get through trauma, it’s important to have some sort of social structure where you feel heard,” Tricia Siegel said. “I felt this provided that space.”