Water bomber drops a load of retardent over an Okanagan wildfire last summer. (Black Press files)

Learn wildfire coping skills at Okanagan CMHA workshop

Effects of devastating fires are far reaching, impacting mental health and well being

The Eagle Bluff wildfire north of Oliver is estimated at 280 hectares in size, BC Wildfire said, and 206 properties in the vicinity are on evacuation alert. Wildfire season is upon British Columbia and its effects are far more reaching than dollars and cents and insurance claims.

The province’s preliminary findings show more than 1.3 million hectares were burned across B.C. in 2018, costing the government around $615 million. But those numbers do not reflect effects of natural disasters on individuals’ mental health and well being.

READ MORE: Wildfire in South Okanagan grows to 280 hectares

The Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA) is hosting a workshop this Saturday at Parkinsons Recreation Centre to better equip people in the Okanagan with tools necessary in coping with the stresses of wildfires and the sometimes seemingly endless skies choked with grey smoke.

This is the first time CMHA has come together across the province to do something like this.

“We’re recognizing that this is becoming an issue,” said Jessica Samuels, the communications manager with CMHA Kelowna. “We know that disasters can cause stress and anxiety and that can impact health and well being.”

Coping with Wildfire Stress is an education event that will take place across the province geared toward people of all ages. Children will learn what to pack in case of an emergency through activities and speakers will discuss emergency preparedness and more.

An hour-long presentation will begin at 11:30 a.m. to share specific tools and coping mechanisms, Samuels said.

“Just to start that dialogue so we can talk about it and acknowledge that (wildfires) are in the back of our minds,” Samuels said, could be helpful to some.

CMHA Kelowna offers other tips to cope with stresses and anxiety inlcuding preparation, self care, asking for help and reaching out to help others in the community.

Workshop attendees will have opportunities to speak with emergency responders and community organizations that assist in firefighting efforts and provide resources—like the Okanagan Regional Library—to those affected by wildfires.

Firefighters will be onsite as well and people will have an opportunity to write letters of gratitude to those on the front lines.

“This is a community-wide issue,” Samuels said. “That idea that it’s totally outside of our control an there is nothing we can do about it can create a lot of anxiety. But what we can control is things we like to do and should be doing to maintain our well being.”

She said while the skies are still blue, people should take advantage of the opportunity to get out and get active, hang out with friends, go to the beaches, walk your dog and connect with people in the community.

“Getting together helps build that support network, too,” she said.

This event, Samuels claimed, will hopefully reassure community members by showing them they’re not alone.

“We are all on the same boat,” she said.

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@caitleerach
Caitlin.clow@kelownacapnews.com

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