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Researchers hope to understand long-term effects of trauma through survey of Black Forest, Waldo Canyon fire victims

By: matt steiner
August 7, 2014 Updated: August 7, 2014 at 10:05 pm
Caption +
Brandy Burton carries her son Caiyleb Lewis, 2, through the rubble of her family's home after residents were allowed back into some of the most devastated sections of the Black Forest fire for a short period of time Tuesday, June 18, 2013. Michael Ciaglo, The Gazette

A group of researchers are turning their attention to the Waldo Canyon and Black Forest fires with the hope of learning more about families and how they cope with disaster.

A behavior expert and a research associate from the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs are part of the team reaching out to parents and kids to take part in a three-part series of surveys that they hope brings insight into family interaction and healing.

The wildfires that burned more than 32,000 acres collectively in the Pikes Peak region during the last two summers should provide an ideal platform, said UCCS's Kotaro Shoji of the school's Trauma, Health & Hazards Center. During the fires, four people died, more than 800 homes were destroyed and tens of thousands of people were evacuated.

Charles Benight, director of the Trauma, Health & Hazards Center, is also representing UCCS on the study.

Shoji and project leader Erika Felix, a professor at the University of California at Santa Barbara, said large disasters leave both parents and children dealing with stress and subsequent recovery.

"For children, their primary help is from the parents," Shoji said, noting that at a time when kids need to be counseled by their mothers and fathers, the parents are seeking help themselves.

Shoji said the research that is just getting underway will dive into effects on the children's brain development that might be interrupted during a crucial stage. He said brains don't fully develop until people reach about 25 years old.

"Theeir body is developing," Shoji said. "And in that critical period of time, they have to cope with this devastating wildfire. It can impact them for the rest of their lives."

During the study, parents and kids will take a 20-minute survey initially. They will take another in six months and yet another after a year.

People directly affected by either the Waldo Canyon or Black Forest blazes are encouraged to sign up for the study at or call Ashley at (866) 778-5819. The research group is offering incentives like small gift cards for those who participate in each step of the research. Parents will also be entered in a raffle for a $200 prize.

"We're trying to recruit as many people as possible," Shoji said.

Felix, with UCSB's Counseling, Clinical and School Psychology Department, said she began focusing on post-wildfire research and its effect on kids and families after three devastating fires tore through areas near Santa Barbara, Calif., between July 2008 and May 2009. More than 20,000 acres burned in those fires.

The researchers, which include professors from the University of Iowa, said the results from the study should help to develop new strategies for helping both adults and kids deal with traumatic events together.

While the El Paso County study has been in the works since shortly after the Black Forest Fire was contained in late June of 2013, money for two years of research was finally awarded in June of this year. The study will cost $100,000 and is being paid for by a grant from the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development.


Contact Matt Steiner: 636-0362

Twitter @gazsteiner

Facebook: Matt Steiner

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