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Picking Up The Pieces After A Wildfire: One Survivor's Advice

LAKSHMI SINGH, HOST:

We're going to take a moment now to hear from someone who's lived through a devastating wildfire. Helen Sedwick lost her home in the Nuns Fire last year in Santa Rosa, Calif. We called her up to see what advice she had to share with people who are going through it right now.

HELEN SEDWICK: Thousands of Californians have been through this and recently, and there's a very strong community. A lot of us have turned around and said, how can I help somebody else?

(SOUNDBITE OF BEN SOLLEE'S "POPCORN AND LIFE")

SEDWICK: Emotionally, you're wiped out. Along with your house, you just feel like you don't have the capacity to do all that. You're going to have to deal with a lot of paperwork. You have to deal with the cleanup. You have to deal with insurance, assuming you have insurance, or FEMA. Even if you're not a paperwork person, you're going to have to be. A lot of that can be done electronically. Take pictures with your phone of your receipts if you don't want to deal with the paper or you don't have a place to keep paper.

Sift through the debris because you may find old pottery. You may find some jewelry. You may find just some trinkets. And all those little pieces from your past are incredibly - they're treasures. They're just very important.

Although the impulse is you want to feel safe, and you want to feel settled somewhere, take your time along the way. You will have time. You'll have time to figure out the insurance. You'll have time to figure out the cleanup. You'll have time to figure out whether you're going to rebuild.

Some of the things that helped me were going on eBay and finding some things that I lost.

(SOUNDBITE OF HUGO LEMIEUX'S "THE ONLY THING")

SEDWICK: You know, you just basically - I'm in my 60s, so I just looked up, like, 1980s vases. And I would find, like, some little cheap thing, like, I'd had but I've had for years. And buying it again for $10 was a thrill. Or Christmas ornaments - that was one of the saddest things to think about replacing because there's a lot of emotional attachment to Christmas ornaments. And I found somebody who had their family ornaments 40 years on eBay, and they were selling them for $20. And I bought them because it meant a lot that at least these were in somebody's family - maybe not my family, but somebody's family. Those little things can be incredibly healing.

SINGH: That was Helen Sedwick in Santa Rosa, Calif. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.


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