The psychological impact of wildfires

July 18, 2012

Two experts talk about the psychological effects wildfires have on the people who fight them and live through them.

Jim Paxon, chief of public information for the Arizona Department of Game and Fish, explains the lifestyle of firefighters. Paxon says when wildfire season starts other responsibilities are put on hold until fire season ends. On top of missing birthdays and family events, firefighters have to deal with the guilt of possibly losing lives and homes. Paxon says that a firefighter has to mentally approach the job as a test of endurance, and common purpose is what gets you through the day. He says nothing can make up for the death of a firefighter, but his of her fellows have to fight on.

Grant Marshall, senior behavioral scientist at the RAND Corporation in California, says survivors of wildfires can be subject to PTSD. Marshall says a screening showed 30 percent of people in a group of 350 were at risk for PTSD. He says the criteria for PTSD included nightmares, distressing recollections, and intense reactions when reminded of events. Marshall says that after three months about one third of people no longer met the criteria for PTSD. Based on this information he says that over time most people will have the symptoms of PTSD from the wildfire resolve, though some may need medication or therapy.

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