Fires cause emotional distress, as well as physical damage.
Fires can affect a community and/or a single home. In any case, they threaten life and property and are unpredictable, uncontrollable, and terrifying. One of the best predictor of post-fire distress, can be how frightening the experience of the fire was and how big the loss was.
Fires are distressing not only because of the imminent risk to life, but also because everything happens quickly: people may have seconds to locate family members and pets and get them to safety, as they also try to grab wallets, insurance papers, and family photo albums. When they are safely outside, the family faces problems such as where they will find immediate shelter - especially if there are children - then there may be challenges involved in getting access to food, water, money and clothing.
When a fire strikes a single home, unlike a natural disaster, where more people are impacted, the family may have to seek shelter with extended family members, neighbours, or friends. If the family is separated temporarily, it can result in additional stress.
A fire disrupts the daily routine and undermines the sense of safety of everyone effected. Losing one's home and property, can lead to depression and elevated levels of stress, including post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). In the aftermath of a fire, families may face financial hardship and medical problems. People may feel confused and frustrated, as they deal with insurance companies and disaster assistance agencies. The cumulative emotional effects of evacuation, displacement, relocation, and/or rebuilding should not be underestimated, especially as it may take time to regain the feeling of security.
After a fire, it is common for people to encounter sights, sounds, smells, sensations, and feelings that remind them of the fire and their losses. The physical and emotional recovery process following a fire, can be lengthy.
If you have experienced a fire these may be some common emotional reactions:
- continuing to worry about another fire
- increased worry about the safety of loved ones, friends, classmates, teachers, neighbours
- feeling more distress and anxiety when reminded about the fire
- feeling less secure
- having trouble separating.
Changes in behaviour:
- children may be irritable and disruptive, with more temper tantrums
- adolescents may be angrier and/or more withdrawn
- parents may have increased marital conflict
- physical complaints (not due to smoke and ash) including headaches and stomach aches
- poorer school and work performance
- less interest in pleasurable activities
- depression like symptoms.
Please visit the links on the website for further information on coping with stressful events and building resilience.