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Healing from the Thomas Fire and Montecito Debris Flows

The University of California, Santa Barbara| Jessica N. Reyes 

Due to copyright reasons, this UCSB student/staff created film cannot be made publicly available. However, please contact Ashley Diedenhofen at ashdeeds@gmail.com to receive instructions on how to view it.


The destructive and disruptive power of natural disasters always receives mass media coverage. Yet in the world of fast consumption of dramatic news, media tends to sensationalize the destruction and damage caused by natural disasters and quickly move on to more recent dramatic developments. What gets lost in the news coverage are the lasting psychological and emotional effects of natural disasters on the affected population, which often take much longer to diagnose and heal.


As this is certainly true in the case of the Santa Barbara Thomas Fire and subsequent debris flow, my hope was to highlight those complex emotional effects in the wake of the second biggest fire in California history, and bring attention to the profound and lingering consequences natural disasters continue to have on affected individuals.

After interviewing seven members of the Montecito community who were affected by the Santa Barbara Thomas Fire and following debris flows, I documented the psychological impacts they have undergone up to this point. Additionally, I was interested in understanding how prepared individuals were at the time of the event and what could have been done differently to better prepare for and cope with natural disasters in the future.

This website is a culmination of photos, videos, testimonials, maps, and other documents related to the Thomas Fire and Montecito debris flows which serve to shed light not only on the destruction that many are still recovering from, but also their paths to emotional recovery. Many of the photos are of survivors' real homes, while others were pulled from various online sources. Upon entering the study, all participants signed a consent form which, allowed them to retain their autonomy in deciding what they preferred to share of their memories and experiences. After browsing this site, I hope one has a better idea about the wide-ranging and long-lasting effects the Thomas Fire and Montecito debris flows had on the emotional health of affected individuals, and how they have found ways to heal.

A special thank you to Diana Raab and UCSB's Raab Writing Fellows Program for funding this research and providing the necessary tools and resources to bring this project to life.