Helping Young Adults After A Wildfire

Experiencing a wildfire can be frightening and traumatic. Seeing the devastation to homes and communities can be overwhelming and can undermine an individual’s sense of security. The wildfires in Calabasas, Agoura, Westlake, and Thousand Oaks have presented intense coping challenges including the need to relocate, especially when a home or community is destroyed.

Wildfires come with unique challenges in that the amount of warning can vary from one neighborhood to the next. While some people may have had hours or days to evacuate, others may have had only a few minutes to gather their belongings and leave their home. Even if an evacuation wasn’t necessary, preparing for the possibility can be frightening along with watching the images of nearby homes burning on the news and social media.

A young adult’s possible reactions may include sleeping and eating disturbances, agitation, increase in conflicts, physical complaints, and poor concentration.

Parents and caregivers can offer the following strategies to help young adults cope:

  1. Remain calm and reassuring: Acknowledge the loss or destruction, but empathize the community’s efforts to clean up and rebuild. Offer reassurance that, in time, life will return to normal.
  2. Acknowledge and normalize feelings: Create time and space for the discussion of feelings and concerns. Listen and empathize. Offer reassurance that intense reactions are normal and expected.
  3. Promote positive coping and problem-solving skills: Encourage young adults to develop realistic and positive methods of coping that allow for the management of anxiety and that match the situation.   
  4. Emphasize resiliency: Help young adults identify what they have done in the past that helped them cope when they were frightened or upset. Bring their attention to other communities that have experienced wildfires and recovered.
  5. If necessary, seek mental health support. Individual counseling can help a young adult develop effective means of coping, and learn to understand and adjust following a wildfire.

Parents and caregivers can help young adults with special needs in the aftermath of a wildfire by remaining calm and reassuring. Response efforts should emphasize teaching effective coping strategies and offering support to help young adults understand that their reactions are normal and expected.




Jeri Rochman, JD, MS, is the Advance LA Director of Community Outreach, a Life Skills Coach, National Board Certified Counselor and Certified Parent Educator. Interested in learning more about Advance LA’s services? She can be reached at jrochman@thehelpgroup.org.