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Red Cross Focuses on Mental Health Support for Wildfire Evacuees

The American Red Cross is providing health and mental health services for people in Colorado and New Mexico where wildfires continue to char acre after acre.

In and around Laporte, Colorado, the fire has consumed thousands of acres and caused new evacuation orders overnight for residents in the area. The Little Bear fire in Lincoln County, New Mexico has destroyed dozens of structures and forced people from their homes.

The Red Cross has shelters open in both states for those affected by the fires, giving residents a safe place to spend the night and get a hot meal. The shelters are also serving as evacuation centers where people can check in and get news from local officials.

Red Cross health services workers are providing emergency first aid and evaluating the health care needs of individuals. Mental health workers are tending to the emotional needs of those forced from their homes by the fires. One family had to leave their home very quickly with nothing but the clothes they were wearing. That was the situation for Maribel Bilello and her family. Maribel is seven months pregnant and fled from her home with her husband, Mike, son, Trey and daughter, Mia. They found a home away from home at the Red Cross shelter in Colorado.

The Bilello Family departs the American Red Cross shelter near Laporte, Co. after three days of uncertainty to return to the comfort of their home. Photo Credit: American Red Cross Volunteer Don Peitzman

“It was difficult to evacuate but Red Cross nurses checked on my well-being throughout the last three days to make sure I was comfortable, if that’s possible at seven months pregnant,” said Maribel. “We are grateful to the Red Cross workers for taking such good care of us and our children.”

HOW TO HANDLE THE EMOTIONAL IMPACT The Red Cross offers the following tips for those dealing with the emotional impact of a disaster:

  • Take a few deep breaths to relax.
  • Count to ten.
  • Prioritize tasks.
  • Tend to necessary activities and try to establish a routine.
  • Take time to assess one’s physical health and seek medical care when appropriate.
  • Make an extra effort to listen and talk to the people around you.

TIPS FOR HELPING CHILDREN Disasters come in many forms and affect children and adults differently. Children take their cues from their parents and other adults. When these important people in their lives cope well in a disaster, children are more likely to respond positively. Adults can help children cope by following some general steps:

  • Encourage children to talk and listen to their concerns.
  • Take time to provide factual information about the disaster and plans for ensuring their ongoing safety.
  • Take care of yourself so you can take care of your children.
  • Offer them a sense of protection. Speak with confidence about the situation, and work with them to build up their sense of feeling protected. A good way to do this is to create a disaster supplies kit and a family communications plan.
  • Help children reconnect with people around them, family, friends and schoolmates. This connection can help strengthen your child's sense of safety.
  • Re-establish daily routines for work, school, play, meals and rest.
  • Monitor and limit your children's exposure to news coverage of the disaster. Children may think the event is happening over and over again when they see or hear repeated reports and images.

HOW YOU CAN HELP Those who want to help can make a donation to support American Red Cross Disaster Relief. This gift enables the Red Cross to prepare for and provide shelter, food, emotional support and other assistance in response to disasters. Visit or call 1-800-RED-CROSS. Contributions may also be sent to local American Red Cross chapters or to the American Red Cross, P.O. Box 37243, Washington, DC 20013.