‘Deep and profound loss’: B.C. sociologist on wildfires’ emotional toll

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UBC Okanagan sociologist on wildfire emotional toll
UBC Okanagan sociologist on wildfire emotional toll – Jul 21, 2021

As of Wednesday afternoon, there are more than 35 wildfires of note — fires that are deemed highly visible or pose a threat to public safety — in the province of British Columbia.

And that has a University of British Columbia Okanagan campus sociologist talking about the emotional toll that wildfires can exact on people, especially those who lose their homes.

Having studied the 2003 Okanagan Mountain Park fire, one of the largest wildland interface fires in Canadian history, Mary Ann Murphy is sharing some unique insights.

“We interviewed 25 families who lost their homes,” Murphy told Global News. “When you lose that, it’s very, very deep and profound loss.”

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According to Murphy, many families who experienced the tremendous devastation of losing their homes in 2003 also felt immense guilt over losing their belongings.

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“If you do lose your home, the hallmarks of this disaster are, first, grief,” Murphy said.

Click to play video: 'B.C. wildfire official provides update on two large fires burning in the South Okanagan'
B.C. wildfire official provides update on two large fires burning in the South Okanagan

“Along with that goes what the experts call self-blame: ‘I feel guilty about this, I forgot that.'”

Murphy said one of the ways to avoid that guilt may be as simple as doing a little planning.

“In the heat of the moment is the worst time to try and figure out what you will take,” she warned.

Her advice during a summer that’s creating stress and anxiety across the province: “Take that anxiety and take it to create comfort for yourself by planning organize the things you might want to take.”

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Click to play video: 'Wildfire causes and consequences'
Wildfire causes and consequences

It’s a lesson that many British Columbians are learning first-hand this summer as hundreds of fires have forced panicked evacuations across the province.

The UBCO sociologist is encouraging everyone to prepare to take possessions that are important to them now.

“You may not have time to take a lot,” Murphy said.

And saving a few cherished family mementos can make a huge difference when it comes time to move on with your life after losing your home.

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