Creek Fire: Evacuees deal with anxiety, emotional trauma

FRESNO, Calif. (KFSN) -- The Oakhurst community center is filling up with people who are wondering if they'll have a home to return to.

"A lot of people are experiencing anxiety, depression, PTSD. We've already had the fires rip through here. From Mariposa, some of the people get triggered too, although, they're not quite affected yet. Mostly a lot of anxiety. What are we going to do? Where are we going to go?" said Christina Tempesta, a licensed marriage family therapist.

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Tempesta is one of a few licensed volunteer therapists at the Oakhurst Center helping people deal with their emotions.

"We need a lot of people that are trained in crisis. A lot of people have people to talk to about what they're going through, but they don't necessarily have people that are trained in crisis management," Tempesta said.

Experts say these emotions could last longer than the fire itself. They encourage people to reach out for help.

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Some evacuees are now anxiously scrolling social media and reaching out to neighbors for any information on whether their home is still standing.

For Auberry resident Claudia Stone, Monday's early morning wake-up call meant packing her truck and loading up her horses within minutes.

"It was a miracle I backed up and hooked up the first try. Horses loaded up they were scared. It's really smoky and dark," she said.

As the fire swept downhill overnight, she was part of a large group of Auberry residents told to leave.

"The wind doesn't normally go that direction. We expected it to go the other way," she said.

Dave and Rebekah Johnson left their home below Shaver Sunday and described their emotions.

"Your hearts just beating.. it's surreal. You kind of always expect it, but hope it doesn't happen. We're still hoping it doesn't happen but conditions are so ripe," said Rebekah.

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When they left, they weren't under mandatory evacuation orders - but it was too smoky to stay.

The Johnsons, their pets, and a car full of 'must-haves' are now staying with their friends Tom and Cathy Armstrong of Fresno. Just 24 hours earlier, the Armstrongs were in a similar situation when they rushed to their family vacation home in Shaver Lake to grab anything they could.

The couples are trying to stay positive - they are safe and their homes are insured.

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Shifting wind conditions are forcing residents in multiple mountain communities to pack up their belongings and evacuate.

But there's also a lot of anxiety and even tears.

The biggest frustration is keeping updated on where the fire is burning and whether it's inching closer to their homes or headed in a different direction.

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Many evacuees have said it's been hard getting specific information on what has burned. But they did find out as of this afternoon that their homes are untouched at this point.

The Red Cross says they are in need of volunteers including licensed therapists or pastors.

They also need cash donations or hands to help at the Oakhurst center and Clovis North High School location.

"One of the best ways to help is to become a trained responder with the Red Cross. You can be boots on the ground. We also have roles you can help with virtually," said Nicole Maul, Red Cross spokesperson.

Volunteers are given background checks. The Red Cross has also started a Safe and Well website to help during this time.

"If you have evacuated and are safe, we have people that are looking for loved ones. It's a registry if you are safe where people can look and find your name," Maul said.
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