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Immediate and long-term emotional needs and responses: experiences of survivors of the 2012 High Park Fire




Bauer, Diane Kay, author
Fruhauf, Christine, advisor
Aberle, Jennifer, committee member
Griffin, Cindy, committee member

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The present study investigated the experiences of individuals impacted by the 2012 High Park Fire in Larimer County, Colorado. The purpose of the study was to begin to understand the emotional needs of survivors of large-scale wildfire incidents. Ambiguous loss, traumatic loss, and family stress theory informed the theoretical basis for the study. A sample of survivors of the High Park Fire were recruited for in-depth, face-to-face or phone interviews to explore their experiences during and after the disaster. Thematic coding was used for data analysis. Findings indicated while individual differences existed among survivors, all participants expressed a desire for additional information on the status of their homes during the evacuation phase and this information was needed sooner rather than later, regardless of whether it was good or bad news. Stress of the unknown was identified as the most difficult emotional challenge, and adequate social support was an important component leading to better coping. An ongoing desire to have the losses and challenges associated with the fire incident acknowledged by the broader community was discussed by the majority of survivors as an important part of healing from their grief. The findings of this research project will be available to professionals within the Colorado State University Extension system to guide in the development of a new section of an Extension website, focusing on grief and loss resources for Colorado wildland fire victims.


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