Fire Recovery & Youth Health

44162019920 7fe79b631d cThe California Army National Guard clears debris in Paradise, California. Credit: U.S. Air National Guard photo by Senior Airman Crystal Housman)
On the night of October 8, 2017, the Tubbs, Nuns and Pocket fires swept through Northern California, destroying more than three thousand homes, leveling neighborhoods and claiming 42 lives. At the time the Tubbs Fire hit Santa Rosa, it was the most destructive in California history. It has since been surpassed by the Camp Fire in Butte County, which destroyed more than 7,000 homes and killed 85 people. Over a year later, families throughout Northern California are still struggling from the initial trauma and the aftermath of these fires.

According to the U.S. Center for Disease Control and Prevention, adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) can lead to poor health outcomes later in life. The greater the number of adverse experiences a child endures, the more likely they will be to suffer from health conditions like asthma, diabetes, coronary heart disease and others. During natural disasters like wildfires, traumatic events are often compounded. This includes community-wide disruptions, loss of loved ones, displacement, and the ongoing stress of living in the same geographic area where the event is likely to happen again. Strengthening social support services may reduce the amount of trauma that youth would otherwise endure after devastating wildfires.

This series addresses these ongoing challenges of recovery and shares the lessons learned in both Santa Rosa and Paradise. As fires recur across California every season, it is important to understand the traumatic impact they can have on youth. While we may not be able to quickly change the trajectory of the climate, we can control the support networks we have in place for families who are devastated by these disasters.


The Wildfire Mental Health Collaborative offers a number of recovery resources and programs for Sonoma County residents. CLICK HERE for a list of recovery resources in Butte County.  

To learn more about helping children recover after natural disasters, visit the Natural Hazards Center children and disasters collection. 

This series was produced for the USC Annenberg Health Journalism Fellowship. 

Fire Recovery & Youth Health

  • September 17, 2019

    Trauma Threatens To Impact School Attendance In Paradise

    Driving to Paradise, you will pass a memorial for the more than 80 people who died in the Camp Fire. The crosses sit on a small knoll off Skyway, the four-lane road between Paradise and Chico. Almost everyone in town used this road to evacuate last November. The students in Paradise Unified School…
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    September 16, 2019

    Paradise School Counselors Address High Rates of PTSD Among Students

    Clinical social worker Laura Besser points to a mural outside the administration office at the new Paradise Elementary School. The students were relocated to this campus, which used to be the middle school, after their elementary school burned down in the Camp Fire. In the center of the mural is…
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    September 14, 2019

    Educators Use Poetry to Help Kids Talk About Trauma

    Kids at Schaefer Elementary write their poems. Credit: Margo Perin. Third-grade teacher, Tracy Henry, points to an American flag hanging in her classroom at Schaefer Elementary. The flag is melted along the edges, it shows just how hot the classroom got when the Tubbs fire swept through Santa Rosa…
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    September 03, 2019

    Housing Insecurity Is Taking a Toll on Youth’s Health

    Miranda Hernandez and her mom, Adelina, stand inside their new home. Credit: Adia White. Standing in the Fountaingrove neighborhood, you can see the scar of the Tubbs fire stretch across the hillside. Two years later, the trees are still charred and the sounds of reconstruction are constant. Among…
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    August 23, 2019

    October 2017 Wildfires Are Affecting Crucial Health Programs

    Image: Ashley Vejar and son Angel. Photo courtesy of the subject. Kemberly Mahiri shows me one of the hundreds of thank you cards she and other counselors for Sonoma County's Teen Parent Program have received. “It just chokes me up every single time,” Mahiri tells me. The program currently has a…

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