The devil in the fire...
This photo, taken in November 1, 2002 shows the salon I worked in burning to the ground. A speeding vehicle had plunged into the building as the driver swerved to pass a car on the highway and completely missed the mark. By the time I arrived at the scene, the last flames were being extinguished and the realization that we had no building to work in, no tools to work with and suddenly, no income, were slowly sinking in. We did not even know which clients were on the books for the coming week. The appointment books, the contact numbers, everything went up in smoke. Gratefully the one stylist that was supposed to be working that night, her client had cancelled, so the building was empty. The driver found himself in the middle of the salon, got out of the car and escaped without injury before the series of explosions occurred from the igniting hair product chemicals and hairspray cans.
If you look very closely at the picture, you will see an image present in the flames. There is an old Fire House phenomenon that when Fire Crews come upon a fire, there is often an image of the devil within the flames. This photograph was the second of a series of three photos taken that night in 2002, and seeing it gave us the chills….
Realizations of loss took days - and even weeks to process - as we quickly sprang into action finding a salon in a neighboring town to take us in, gathering basic hair equipment, doing what we could to secure licensing…. Having proper paperwork in order was impossible, we did the best we could and just kept going, knowing the loss could have been worse if it was our homes or if anyone had been working in the building when the fire occurred.
I will not even pretend this experience compares to the current situation of then Camp Fire Victims in California – or any other fire victim that lost homes, their home town, or loved ones. The purpose of me finally recording these events – 16 years later - is to share some of the “take always” that it took years for me to process.
It. Changes. You.
Surviving any tragedy resulting from any level of fire destruction is a traumatic event. It is a major marker on your Life Calendar, you will refer to things that happen over time by referencing, “before the fire,”, or “after the fire”. As you journey through the following days, weeks, months, you will become more tolerant of change and more compassionate of those around you. The support of community, the sharing of your experience is helpful throughout. You value things differently. You value LIFE differently… It changes you forever.
Once that devil of the fire is finally put out, there is a long road ahead for the processes to evolve. I pluralize "process" because there are many factors to pay attention to, and you cannot possible take them all on immediately. There are many side stories to my own ordeal, and there will be many for so many
Protecting your health is your number one priority, you cannot possibly be of help and support to so many suffering around you if you become sick and needy yourself, this goes for anyone working on relief efforts as well. To do this, it is essential to prioritize establishing a routine, taking your medications, get your eating and sleeping under control, protecting yourself from smoke exposure, etc... Please address any trauma issues you might be experiencing., Seek out Crisis Counseling services, talk about it, write about it, cut yourself slack for forgetfulness as you take in the overwhelming amount of information that comes your way.
No Short Cuts
For the relatively short time a fire burns, there is no short cut to getting back on your feet. Expect to take time with this entire process. The tedious job of identifying and valuing each little item that you lost is painful and overwhelming. Most of us want to stick out heads in the sand, and be done with the tragic experience. We want to magically feel normal again, put the whole memory behind us. There are many reports from fire victims that it takes 18 months to 2 years to reach a recovered state, materially and emotionally. It is especially difficult to live through this time period with so much uncertainty about the final outcome.
Filling out forms, securing temporary housing, searching out resources and all the while protecting your health from the lack of routine, sleep issues, stress trauma, is so important though daunting. Take baby steps as you can. Try not to think about everything at once, easier said than done. As you chip away at each recovery task at hand, be clear on prioritizing which things to attend to first. This is especially important when it comes to financial assistance and working the insurance claims.
Insurance Adjusters are Humans
We heard a lot of awful “insurance adjuster” stories when our salon burned down, but also acquired some awesome support and knowledge from our clients as we moved through the process of an insurance settlement. This took many months and I am clear that every situation can be very different. Gratefully, I saw that a retired Insurance Agent recently came forward in one of the Facebook Groups for Camp Fire Victims offering this same advice. You can read his words here.
It is so important to remember that the professionals you are dealing with, (even as they try to devalue Aunt Mable’s precious wedding ring that you lost in the fire) are human beings with a job to do. Be kind, courteous, and business like. Try not to let your emotions rule. However, do argue the value of each and every possession as it is warranted for your case. Do NOT be in a hurry to “settle” quickly for you will be remembering forgotten items for many months to come. Be fair and honest but do allow for the fact that, most likely, you are not able to list full value on everything you own.
To wrestle “the devil in the fire” takes time on every level, emotionally, physically, and - from a business perspective. This is your new job now... resolve to do it well. Your future financial security, AND your general well being count on your willingness to be alert and find the ability to chip away at the many tasks you will be facing.
There will be little blessings along the way… acknowledge them, look for them, expect them. Once you find yourself on a better side of this whole process, and surrounded by your shiny, new possessions, take the time to love the level of gratitude you have learned through the entire experience. You so deserve every level of comfort that awaits you!