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Stress, Uncertainty with Fourmile Canyon Fire May Linger Beyond the Flames

September 10, 2010

BOULDER, Colo. - Some of the people evacuated by the Fourmile Canyon Fire outside of Boulder were allowed to return home Thursday, but experts who deal with natural disasters say that doesn't mean that the emotional stress is over. Officials warned that more evacuations could occur as fire conditions change.

Kathleen Tierney is director of the University of Colorado Natural Hazards Center. She says the uncertainty around natural disasters like fires is stressful, and mental health support is important - along with property protection and personal safety.

"At this point they don't know how long they're going to be out of their homes. Under those kinds of conditions people are continually searching for information that will help them make decisions about what to do next."

Tierney says those unknowns also can cause lingering stress that extends beyond the immediate fire danger, and there is a call for coordination of mental health support in the months ahead.

She says for those not evacuated, the fire demonstrates the importance of having an evacuation plan in place - not just for safety, but to help preserve mental health through peace of mind.

"I think that it's important that people understand the hazards that fires present. They can move very quickly. Staying in a hazardous area could endanger your health and possibly even your life."

Teirney says modern technology, such as cell phones or social media, can also help because they can be sounding boards for concerns and a way for people to keep in touch if they're separated.

Pets should also be part of the evacuation plan, because knowing they're safe, or being able to keep them with you is another factor in a healthy state of mind during an emergency, advises Holly Tarry, Colorado director for the Humane Society of the United States.

"The most important thing you can do is stay calm. Pets, you know, they're sponges. They really can feed off of how we're feeling."

Tarry says the fire is a reminder that people should put together kits for pets with food, bowls, medicines and something to make the animal feel safe, like a crate or a dirty t-shirt that smells like you, in case of an evacuation.

The latest fire information can be found at http://boulderoem.com/component/content/article/5.

Kathleen Ryan, Public News Service - CO