Wildfires Can Cause Mental Health Damage That Smolders Years After the Flames Go Out
WEDNESDAY, Aug. 11, 2021 (American Heart Association News) — Melissa Geissinger didn’t believe she was in danger. But when the cat at the foot of her bed lifted its head to sniff the air, she felt her first stab of worry. She stepped outside her home in Santa Rosa, California, and there it was: the choking smell of smoke.
Then came the phone alert – the wildfires she thought too far away had jumped the highway and were heading straight toward her. Seven months pregnant, she grabbed both her cats, her two dogs and a few belongings and fled with her husband, blowing the car horn to alert the neighbors.
It’s been nearly four years since the Tubbs wildfire – one of the most destructive in California’s history – obliterated Geissinger’s neighborhood, along with more than 36,000 acres of wine country. In the months that followed, she had severe anxiety and panic attacks, waking in the middle of the night with chills. She sought counseling, but she continues to have anxiety from seemingly endless reports of fires that return each year.
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