Boulder Colorado sent out 2021 with a rush of chaos and rang in 2022 with heartbreak and loss in the aftermath of the Marshall fire – the most destructive fire in Colorado history. The Marshall fire decimated hundreds of homes and businesses in my beloved home state. In light of this natural disaster, I’ve partnered with fire and disaster expert Greg Tenney to help our community navigate healing and bounce back from this.
We’ll review the three main concerns we’re all facing, some tips for coping with the challenges of rebuilding, and how we can pull together to come back even stronger. You can also watch my full interview with Greg by clicking right here. Let’s dive in.
Health Risks After the Fire
While the imminent threat of the fire may have passed, the lingering effects of this unexpected natural disaster still pose significant health risks. Right now, we’re facing two primary challenges when it comes to health risks: exposure to wildfire smoke, and contaminated water.
Exposure to Wildfire Smoke:
As we’ve clearly seen in Colorado, when a fire strikes, it can and will engulf anything it comes across – setting fire to homes, businesses, crops, trees, and anything else unlucky enough to be in its path. When a man-made structure catches fire, the smoke released contains a mixture of not only carbon monoxide and carbon dioxide, but also what’s known as particulate matter or soot.
This soot contains a cocktail of chemicals used to construct man-made structures such as:1,2,3
- Acid gases
- Sulfur dioxide
- Nitrogen oxides
- Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs)
- Heavy metals
As these chemical-laden specks of soot float through the air, they can easily make their way directly into your lungs as you breathe. Elevated or prolonged exposure to this toxic soot can cause a host of health complications that you can read more about in my article Does Exposure to Wildfire Smoke Affect Your Health? Plus How to Best Protect Yourself.
Just as our air is contaminated after a fire, so is our water. As the soot settles, it makes its way into our waterways. This can create a massive spike in contaminants and toxic compounds in our drinking water.
And to make matters worse, our drinking water problems could be compounded by recent fires. You see, as fires decimate trees and vegetation, they increase the amount of sediment that’s washed away with heavy rainfall and melting snow..4 And that excess sediment makes its way into our water systems where it must be filtered.
Mental and Emotional Well-Being After a Natural Disaster
Your physical health isn't the only thing that can be thrown for a loop after a natural disaster. The mental and emotional trauma of surviving a natural disaster, losing your belongings, and having to rebuild your life from the ground up can be crushing. After a natural disaster, it’s normal to go through a roller-coaster of emotions as you process everything that has happened and come to terms with the reality of everything that must be done to rebuild.
Financial and Material Well-Being After a Natural Disaster
Losing your home and/or business along with all of your material possessions is devastating. Not only are you coping with your mental and physical health – but you’re also faced with recuperating your finances. And to say that starting over from square one is overwhelming doesn't even begin to scratch the surface.
So if you’ve been impacted by the recent fires in Colorado (or anywhere else for that matter) let’s dive into some things you can do to make the process of coping with and recovering from this gut-wrenching event a little less painful.
After the Fire: What You Can Do to Start Recovering
So now that we’re over the initial shock and have had some time to assess the damage, what can we do as individuals and as a community to begin healing and re-building as quickly as possible?
Protect Your Health:
The air and water quality is inevitably impacted by recent events. But there are a few steps you can take to protect yourself and help your body cope with the increased exposure to toxins in the air and water. Here’s what I suggest:
- Purchase a high-quality HEPA air filter: Whether your home was spared, you’re camping out in a hotel room, or staying with family – if you’re anywhere near the areas that have been scorched, it’s wise to invest in a high-quality air filtration system. These powerful machines help purify your indoor air by filtering out toxins. The two best air purification systems currently available on the market are Austin Air Systems and Air Doctor Air Purification Systems.
- Wear a respirator mask if spending time outdoors: Smoke and toxic chemicals can linger in the air long after the fire is extinguished. If you’re spending time outdoors, it might be a good idea to invest in a high-quality respirator mask. The company 3M has a wide variety of respirators with different levels of protection depending on what you need. Their 6000 series is basic, their 6500 series has some silicone and their 7500 series has even more silicone as well as an exhale valve.
- Only drink filtered water: Even in the best of times, tap water can be filled with hidden toxins. So now more than ever, it’s crucial to ensure the water you’re drinking has been filtered and purified of any lurking contaminants. There are several excellent water filtrations systems available, but my top three favorites are AquaTru, Boroux, and Clearly Filtered.
- Help your body process and detox toxins: There’s no way to avoid an influx of toxins if you reside in or near the areas that have been hit by fire. But you can give your body a little extra support to better process and filter out these toxins. Click here to learn about some of the ways you can boost your detoxification pathways.
- Support your body with a strategic supplement stack: Supplements can help shield your body from continued damage and enhance your healing and detoxing. Here’s my Post-Wildfire Exposure Recommendations:
- Activated B Complex: to help reduce the inflammatory effects caused by smoke inhalation
- Buffered Vitamin C: Vitamin C is a powerful antioxidant that has been shown to minimize airway irritation and improve airways after exposure to smoke
- Omega Essentials 950: Omega-3 fatty acids can help stabilize heart rate variability that can be triggered after smoke inhalation
- BroccoBoost: The compounds in BrocoBoost enhance your ability to detox by increasing your antioxidant levels and and speeding up toxin excretion
- N-acetyl cysteine (NAC): NAC can help block pro-inflammatory cytokine production and reduce overall inflammation
- ResveraMax: This unique combination of phytonutrients works to amplify your body's natural production of antioxidants while scavenging harmful free radicals
But your physical health isn’t the only thing you need to focus on during this time.
Prioritize Your Mental and Emotional Well-Being:
There’s a lot of emotional turmoil that can hit after a natural disaster. Here’s what you can do to help yourself cope:
- Allow yourself to process the emotions: Acknowledge that you’ve been through a traumatic experience and give yourself permission to feel all of the emotions – anger, sadness, loss – just allow yourself to process any emotions that are bubbling up.
- Connect with others: Knowing you're not alone in this can be extremely comforting. Not only are there others in a similar situation that you can connect with, but there are tons of individuals and groups within the community that are ready to support you any way they can.
- Seek spiritual solace: Taking time to ground yourself and connect with something bigger can be incredibly healing. Some ways that might help you seek spiritual solace might be going to church, praying, practicing meditation, reading, spending time in nature – whatever helps you feel spiritually refreshed.
Be in Close Contact With Your Insurance Company:
Your insurance claims adjuster – the person that negotiates and settles claims on behalf of the insurance company – is going to be your best friend when it comes to navigating life after the fire. They’re here to help you bounce back and return to normalcy as quickly and smoothly as possible. They will help you understand what’s covered in your insurance policy, how to make claims, and walk you through each step of the process.
Keep Track of All Expenses and Damages:
There are going to be a lot of overwhelming and unexpected expenses. If you’ve lost your belongings and your home, you'll have to buy new everything – from underwear and toothbrushes to new computers and replacing important documents. These expenses add up and can be easy to lose track of.
The best thing you can do is purchase a large spiral-bound notebook and keep track of all of your expenses and damages. Damages would include items lost in the fire like:
- Jewelry and other valuables
- Recreational equipment
And expenses would be things like:
- Hotel rooms
- Toiletries and personal care items
- Any other expenses incurred while you’re out of a home
And always remember to save your receipts! Staying organized and keeping track of everything can help the claims process go smoother and save you a lot of headaches.
Replace Valuable Documents:
It can be overwhelming and easy to lose track of the numerous valuable documents you may have lost in the fire. A list of some of the documents you may need to replace include:
- Drivers licenses
- Automobile registration
- Marriage license
- Birth certificate(s)
- Social security card(s) Medicare/Medicaid/insurance card(s)
- Military ID(s)
- Income tax records
- Titles and deeds
- Stocks and bonds
- Medical records
- Insurance policies
Exactly how you replace each document and how long it takes will vary, of course. So it’s best to get organized and submit any paperwork needed to get replacements as soon as possible while it’s still fresh in your mind.
Protect Yourself From Solicitors:
Unfortunately, there are people and companies out there that have the audacity to prey on people when they’re vulnerable after a natural disaster. So be wary of any solicitors and whatever you do, do not sign any contracts or make any major decisions until you’ve had time to get all of your ducks in a row. People or companies pandering solutions may be focused on profits and not necessarily have your best interest in mind.
Be Ready for the Long-Haul:
The truth is, recovering from this devastating fire is not going to be a quick or easy process. Realistically, it will take years for the community to recover, for homes and businesses to be reconstructed, and for the environment to regenerate. But knowing that recovery is a marathon – not a sprint – can help us all approach rebuilding with the right mindset.
So, What Can We Do Now After the Colorado Fires?
Living through a natural disaster is traumatic and can send you reeling. But we can get through this together and come out better and stronger on the other side. I’ve been blessed beyond measure to be alive and well and have my clinic still standing. And I have every intention of paying those blessings forward and helping the community in any way I can.
My clinic, Flatiron Functional Medicine, is pulling together to donate air filters to anyone in our community that needs them. If you’re interested in contributing to our donation effort we would love to connect with you. You can email us at firstname.lastname@example.org to learn more and to get involved.
As always, I’m here to help my patients and readers optimize their well-being physically, mentally, and spiritually. My heart goes out to those who have lost so much in this devastating fire. I’m in this for the long-haul to rebuild our community even stronger than before.
Now it’s time to hear from you. Do you have any other tips to help our community recover? Do you know of any additional ways others can lend a hand to those needing help within our community? Leave your tips and any links or additional information you might have in the comments below!
- Exposure to Smoke from Fires (ny.gov)
- How Does Wildfire Smoke Affect Your Health? | Cedars-Sinai
- Health Effects of Smoke Exposure due to Wildland Fires | Province of Manitoba (gov.mb.ca)
- Colorado wildfires: Burn scars threaten drinking water across the West (denverpost.com)
* These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. The product mentioned in this article are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease. The information in this article is not intended to replace any recommendations or relationship with your physician. Please review references sited at end of article for scientific support of any claims made.