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Healing Together

After the big fires, the valley community tapped its own resources for mental health support


Last updated 10/15/2020 at 4:17pm

Marcy Stamper

In the aftermath of the Carlton Complex Fire, Susan Speir searched through the rubble of her Finley Canyon home.

Editor's note: The Center for Public Integrity and Columbia Journalism Investigations joined forces with newsrooms around the country to dig into an often-forgotten part of the disaster story: the mental toll. Public Integrity and InvestigateWest collaborated on this story for the project, co-published with the Methow Valley News. Visit http://www.invw.org for more information.

Susan Speir thought they'd have more time.

When wildfires started spreading near Speir's home in the Methow Valley on July 17, 2014, she and her husband prepared to evacuate. They packed up valuables and keepsakes - her antique collection, prints from her husband's 30-year career as a U.S. Forest Service photographer, memorabilia from their grown children - in boxes by the door of their two-story stucco house.

As she assessed her glassware, "this fireman steps in the door," she remembered. "And he said, 'We need to get out of here now.' I'm reaching for the champagne glass. And he said, 'No, you don't understand. We need to leave this minute.'"

Speir and her husband narrowly escaped with their dogs and cat, leaving everything else behind. When they returned after the fire, "there was nothing left as far as you could see."

In the aftermath of losing everything, Speir said, one of the "most significant things" that helped her emotional recovery was support from her community. Even though "the whole valley was traumatized by fire," she said, people rallied around her and her husband, dropping off furniture and kitchenware at their new home.

"I think of these people who were so kind every time I pull out a dish for cereal," she said.

Community support

The Methow Valley is a case study for how relentlessly climate change can pummel a community. Over the past six years, back-to-back wildfires and intense smoke events have devastated the valley and wreaked havoc on residents' mental health.

To read more from this article, visit https://methowvalleynews.com/2020/09/30/healing-together/


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