Camp Fire Survivors Have Advice For People In The West: 'You Need To Be There For Other People'

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A Cal Fire firefighter pulls a hose towards a burning home as the Camp Fire moves through the area on Nov. 9, 2018 in Magalia, California. (Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)
A Cal Fire firefighter pulls a hose towards a burning home as the Camp Fire moves through the area on Nov. 9, 2018 in Magalia, California. (Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

The wildfires on the West Coast have forced thousands of people to flee their homes. Some small towns in Oregon are now mostly gone and lots of families are assessing what to do next.

The Collins family in Roseburg, Oregon, has been through this before. They lost their home in Magalia, California, during the historic Camp Fire in 2018.

This time, fires are burning all around them but remain a good 20 miles from where they live, Nikki Collins says.

“The emotional impact of seeing the smoke and smelling it and seeing news clips of the fires, it's draining,” she says. “I cry a lot over it.”

Collins says her 6-year-old son Clayton is more affected by the fires than her other two children.

“He's still trying to process what happened with the Camp Fire, so he's really worried that the fires are gonna hit here and we're going to lose everything again,” she says.

At the same time, Collins’ 15-year-daughter Summer is navigating virtual school amid the pandemic. Summer says it’s “a little bit harder than a normal school.”

Nikki Collins with her brothers, Clayton and Troy. (Courtesy)
Summer Collins with her brothers, Clayton and Troy. (Courtesy)

Due to smoke forcing them indoors, Summer spends her free time painting and drawing, while her mom says she loves to read to take her mind off of the fires.

Nikki Collins says she has also been seeing a mental health counselor to help her cope.

“Even though there are fires all around us, we are prepared and I still have three kids I have to take care of and animals I have to take care of,” Nikki Collins says. “I can't be down and crying all the time. I still have to be a mother and a wife. That's just how it is. There's no getting around it. You have to push yourself to keep going.”

The Collins family moved to Oregon about a year ago, but they are now planning to move back to California. If they are going to have to deal with wildfires, Collins says she would rather face them surrounded by family and friends.

“No matter if we’re in Oregon at this point or California, there's fires,” she says. “It's just feeling like we cannot escape these fires, so if we're gonna go through this, we might as well go through it back at home in California with friends and family, people we love and care about.”

Since she has been through this before, Collins has learned a few things about preparing for fires. The most important thing is to make sure all of your important documents are in one place, she says.

“Make sure they're not scattered because if you lose your home like we did, those important documents come in handy when you're trying to rebuild your life and get things settled and going through the FEMA [Federal Emergency Management Agency] process,” she says.

If you do need to evacuate, Collins says to bring your pets with you and make sure they have enough food. And always make sure you have a bag of clothes packed ready to go.

“The best advice for clothes I can give is take the clothes out of your dirty clothes hamper,” she says. “Those are the clothes you like and wear the most, so don't grab anything off the closet shelf.”

When a town is hit by a tragedy like a wildfire, Collins says it’s important to look out for one another. After the Camp Fire, she says everyone in her town pulled together.

“I don't know how we all did it, but somehow we just rose above,” she says. “You need to be there for other people, and those other people are usually going to be there for you, too.

Ashley Locke produced and edited this interview for broadcast with Peter O'Dowd. Samantha Raphelson adapted it for the web.

This segment aired on September 17, 2020.


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Samantha Raphelson is an associate producer for Here & Now, based at NPR in Washington, D.C.



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