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A Resilient Approach To Forest Fire With Sandra Younger

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As the climate crisis continues to worsen, natural disasters will only get more dangerous, which leads to traumatic experiences if completely ignored. For this episode, Corinna Bellizzi focuses on forest fire and the urgent need for more resilient tools to get through such a dangerous phenomenon. Joining her is journalist and author Sandra Younger, who personally witnessed the 2003 Cedar Fire. She shares how she wrote a book about surviving this deadly wildfire, losing several of her neighbors, and discovering the right process of jumping back from your lowest points. Sandra also breaks down her Comeback Formula that teaches people hurt by natural disasters to get rid of their unhealthy victim mindset.

 

About Sandra Younger

Care More Be Better | Sandra Younger | Forest FireSandra Younger lost her home, twelve neighbors, and almost her own life in the 2003 Cedar Fire–-for 14 years the biggest wildfire in modern California history and a bellwether of today’s extreme climate-driven wildfire catastrophes. A powerful storyteller and veteran magazine journalist, Sandra felt compelled to capture the Cedar Fire story in her book, The Fire Outside My Window. Recently re-released as an updated 20th anniversary edition, Sandra’s book has been hailed as required reading for residents of wildfire country, adopted as a training text for top-level emergency professionals, and featured by national media. Sandra is also an international speaker and certified professional coach, dedicated to inspiring the resilience she learned through her fire experience.

 

Guest LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/sandrayounger/

Guest Website: https://www.sandrayounger.com

Guest Social:

https://www.instagram.com/smyounger/

https://www.facebook.com/sandra.m.younger.5

https://www.youtube.com/@syounger0

https://twitter.com/syounger

 

Show Notes

2003 Cedar Fire [03:52]

I wanted to start today’s conversation with a telling of your narrow escape from the Cedar Fire then we’ll go on to discuss more about fear regrets reclaiming feelings of safety when you may feel unsafe and ultimately building that resilience back.

Becoming Resilient [10:40]

I know that there are triggers for people who’ve lived through these types of experiences that can really kind of rear their ugly heads when you least expect it.

Fire Outside My Window [14:07]

When I started to research my book the fire outside my window and thank you for showing it.

The Comeback Formula [19:13]

So yes, let’s start with number one first things first.

Preparing For Disaster [29:28]

I found myself in the intro section where you really describing getting out really thinking about moments like your husband not being able to find his glasses.

Keynote And Coaching [40:26]

You mentioned before that you’re often speak keynote things like this. And so I also see that you offer services from a business coaching perspective.

Closing Words [44:32]

Thank you so much for joining me today. I really enjoyed this conversation.

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A Resilient Approach To Forest Fire With Sandra Younger

This episode is going to be dedicated to every single person who has been impacted by floods, fire, earthquakes, and other natural disasters. Some of these seem to be occurring ever more frequently, as we all deal with the ravages of climate change and changing environment. For those of you who are in areas that are already seeing these changes like in my native California, this episode is bound to strike a nerve or a cord within you.

It may stir some feelings, may cause you to reflect, and even feel some latent sadness, but it will also provide you with more tools to help you emerge as well as from past trauma and even present and future. It’s because the reality of now is that we will face more difficulty. We will face more challenges. It seems to be the one true thing in all of our lives.

Now, to guide us on this journey, I am joined by the journalist and fire survivor, Sandra Millers Younger. She wrote lost her home, twelve neighbors, and almost her own life back in the 2003 Cedar Fire. For years, it was known as the biggest wildfire in modern California history and a bellwether of this day’s extreme climate-driven wildfires and catastrophes. She’s a powerful storyteller.

I have her book, The Fire Outside My Window: A Survivor Tells The True Story Of California’s Epic Cedar Fire. It’s the 20th anniversary now of that fire and the reality again for those of us living here in California is that we will probably see more as soon as spring turns into the drier summer month. What I love so much about this book is Sandra’s forthrightness and her storytelling prowess. You get inside the moment and you feel it with her. It helps you to move through even what you might have experienced in your own life.

Care More Be Better | Sandra Younger | Forest Fire
The Fire Outside My Window: A Survivor Tells The True Story Of California’s Epic Cedar Fire

I was evacuated here on the Central Coast of California back in 2020 due to fires. A CZU fire complex sent my home into a bit of disarray. We had friends who lost their homes in the fire as well. If you may recall having read this blog before, we connected with Dr. Wallace J. Nichols about the fact that he lost his home in the Santa Cruz Mountains during that fire as well.

He even wrote a book of his own specifically guided for children who had experienced that trauma. Each of these experiences has the opportunity to bring us more tools and more resilience. I want to welcome with a wholehearted round of applause, Sandra Younger, for all that she has done and her willingness to put it all out there for all of us to learn with her. Sandra Younger, welcome to the show.

Thank you, Corinna. It’s such a privilege to be here. I appreciate it.

I wanted to start this conversation by telling of your narrow escape from the Cedar Fire then we’ll go on to discuss more about fear, regret, reclaiming feelings of safety when you may feel unsafe, and ultimately building that resilience back. By the end of today’s journey, I hope that together we can share how some of this experience has shaped and molded these lessons into something that we can all implement into our lives. As that gifted storyteller that you are, let’s start with that fire story.

Fortunately, it is a dramatic story in and of itself. It began many years ago now when my husband and I found ourselves to be empty nesters. We had been living in the suburbs of the city of San Diego for some time and we thought, “Why not move out to the country?” We love nature and wildlife. We found this beautiful house on the side of a mountain in a stunning place called Wildcat Canyon. We’re about 30 minutes east of downtown San Diego.

We bought this house and we loved it. We could hardly believe it. We were pinching each other. Do we live here? We loved the beauty of the mountains all around us, the wildlife, hawks, ravens, and bunnies. Sometimes, a rattlesnake. One day on my way to work, a bobcat jumped out right in front of my car and headed off down the road. I thought, “A real wildcat in Wildcat Canyon. What could be more amazing than this?”

Barely seven months after we had moved into our nirvana, we woke up to the site of fire outside our window. That’s where I got the name of the book. There was fire all across the canyon, on the mountain, and on the other side of us. We could tell there was a glow below us. We knew that meant that the fire was headed our way and we should have already been gone. We grabbed our two big shaggy Newfoundland dogs and our little brainless cockatiel Chelsea.

I say she was brainless because I took care of her and she only loved my husband. She would hiss at me. We grabbed Chelsea in her little traveling cage and we jumped into the closest car, which happened to be my little Acura sports coop. It could not have been Bob’s big suburban. That would’ve made more sense because we couldn’t find the keys to that. There’s one lesson already.

This makes you feel like that moment you need that go-bag and everything to be ready.

I didn’t have a go-bag. It’s another lesson learned that I now share with others. We headed out. I was driving. At first, we were clear and then we hit the smoke. You need to know there’s only one way out from our home. It’s down this precipitous road. It’s this little sliver of asphalt cut into the side of the mountain that leads out to the main road. That was it. That was the only way. As we got to the most treacherous part of this road, we hit the smoke and I could not see anything. Do you know how it is when you’re in an airplane and there are clouds outside and you can’t see anything? That’s the way it was. I started screaming to my husband, “I can’t see the road.” He screamed back, “Just don’t wreck the car.”

Which is, “Don’t drive off the cliff,” right?

A little frivolous but yes, that’s what he meant. Do not drive off the side of this mountain. At that moment, a little bit of magic happened or some might say a little bit of providence. A bobcat jumped right to my headlight and dashed off down the road. Something in me knew that wildcat was on the road I couldn’t see and something in me knew to follow him or her. I followed the bobcat, and when I got to the point where it had disappeared into the smoke, now I could see something. I could see these two smeary red fields below and a dark place in between.

I knew that everything ahead of us was on fire and that dark place had to be the road. There was no going back so I steered into the dark place and Bob helped me. We negotiated our way through two lines of fire for about a mile until we broke free. That is how my husband and I, our two Shaggy Newfoundlands, and Chelsea, the brainless cocker escaped the Cedar Fire, which as you mentioned was for fourteen years the biggest wildfire in California’s modern history. It is now seen as the historic bellwether among several other modern mega-fires that is an inflection point in climate and fire history.

It certainly taught us to pay attention. At the time that I was evacuated in 2020, I remember distinctly it was finals week. I was in graduate school. I’m sitting here trying to finish my final projects while the call has come out for everyone to leave our town. I’m sitting here going, “I want to finish this paper and I’ll get it out and then I’ll get in the car.” Now granted, I felt like I was far from it, but what Cal Fire was trying to do was learn from your experience and to give people the opportunity and the time to get out with plenty of wherewithal and the ability to then not be responding to homes that have been completely destroyed.

Now, my town probably didn’t need to be evacuated. They were partly doing it for infrastructure because they were starting to see people coming in even trying to rob homes that had been evacuated. They wanted to close it all off to make sure that fire vehicles could get in and out where they needed to protect people and their properties if they were still there at all. However, everyone’s going around and putting a black X in spray paint on their driveways to say, “I’ve evacuated.”

If you were staying behind, you didn’t do that. Firefighters were coming and knocking on doors. They couldn’t do that in your case. When the CZU Fire Complex came to Santa Cruz and my friends lived up on the ridge line, they had chickens, animals, and all this stuff on their property, and they were like, “The mountain is on fire. We got to go.” Also, much like your story, they had one road in and one road out to their property because that’s how the Santa Cruz Mountains are when you get into these ravines and such. There’s only one way in and out.

It has created for us in this local community a sense of terror even about lightning strikes. Now, this comes at a moment. A couple of days after, we’ve had a lightning storm come through. The first one that has occurred when it’s been so damp out, there’s been a lot of rain since the CZU Fire complex hit. I still got into that moment of panic, that moment of, “The lightning has come again.” I know that there are triggers for people who’ve lived through these types of experiences that can rear their ugly heads when you least expect it.

Learning to be resilient and retain some sense of hope can be hard for people. I was hoping that in this next part of our conversation, you could help people understand how this Cedar Fire and the fires that we’ve seen up North are those sorts of bellwethers for what’s in the future. Also, what steps that you believe society and Cal State should be taking to address these challenges so that we are all better prepared and so that we can be more resilient ultimately?

I understand every bit of what you said. There are triggers. For us, it’s usually the wind. There’s a National Weather Service red flag warning that goes out when fire danger is critical. The thing is, as you’re saying, once it’s happened to you, you know it can happen to you so you can’t ever be quite as complacent as you were. We were so naive, even though we thought we were prepared. It does break my heart to know that every year people are going to lose their homes this year in fires and they have no idea it’s coming.

It’s important to be prepared. It is important to get out early with your go bag and with your animals if you can. To have made those arrangements in advance for your livestock if you can. All of that is important. Moving into the resilience piece, the great silver lining of my fire experience was that I discovered first by stumbling into them and then by doing a little research because I am a journalist. I was at the time, a magazine editor, and that’s what we do.

In crisis, we research and I discovered that there are common sense and yet powerful steps we can each take to build our personal resilience like a muscle. Not just for disaster preparedness, but for any adversity that we face in life. It’s been studied. It’s a subset of positive psychology. I looked at a lot of this research and there were a lot of steps you could take, but I boiled it down into five because that’s all most of us can remember. I call it The ComeBACK Formula. I do have five steps that I can share with people, but before I share those Corinna, it may be interesting to hear the story of how I stumbled into that.

[bctt tweet=”We can build our personal resilience not just for disaster preparedness but for any adversity we face in life.” via=”no”]

Yes, exactly. The learnings that you took into it because I think we come upon this wisdom. A dear friend of mine and I were talking about having a bad day. You can feel defeated all of a sudden. “I feel like I’m an imposter in X, Y, Z,” or, “I don’t have the skills to get through this moment.” It could be anything that you can confront. Your child is confronting some social issue at school and it sits with you. He said something so wise to me, which is my experience when you have these moments, what you come out of it with on the other side is always better than it would’ve been the moment before. I feel like that’s true yet it’s hard to see sometimes.

It’s possible but what I discovered was that it’s a choice. When I started to research my book, The Fire Outside My Window.

It’s a beautiful cover. As scary as it also is, it’s very well designed. Nice job.

Thanks. This is the 20th-anniversary edition. As you mentioned, we just passed the 20th anniversary of the fire so I wanted to update it a little bit and add some context about how the fire is now seen. I was a journalist and I knew I had come out of the worst part of the worst fire anyone could remember. We did lose twelve people right around us. That was the biggest bulk of the casualties. There were a total of fifteen casualties in that fire and two others elsewhere in the county in a separate fire that week. I knew that it was my job to document this fire. Do you remember that movie, the Blues Brothers with John Belushi?

How could I Not? Yes.

He said they were trying to raise money for this nun at the school, and they would go around doing these concerts and they’d say, “We are on a mission from God.” That’s how I felt. I felt like this was my mission now to document this entire fire story. I went around and I started interviewing people. Not just the survivors, the families of those we lost, the firefighters, and the law enforcement. The people who were in it to their singed eyebrows.

What I discovered was that even though everyone calls you a victim right after the fire, you can see it in the media report, “Fire victims,” which I recoiled at that. I did not feel that I was a victim. I felt I was a survivor. Survivors have this funny way of evolving into thrivers, and even givers who try to give from what they’ve learned. Sometimes even world changers. Some of the people we most admire in the world have been through the worst adversities. I recoiled. I did not think I was a victim and I corrected people when they said that.

Most people I interviewed felt that way too. We’ve got our lives. We can start over. However, I did meet a smaller number of people who seemed too attached to that victim label and were even a little bit proud, it seemed to present themselves as victims of the fire. The funny thing, Corinna, was it did not seem to matter how much they had lost in the fire.

For example, I talked with two different families who had each lost three members of their family. Just sit with that for a second, and they were not the bitter ones. They said our loved ones would not want us to spend the rest of our lives being bitter, angry, and sad. They would want us to move on and remember them with love and joy.

The most bitter person I taught had lost his detached garage, which to be fair was also his office. He lost a lot of important stuff. So did I. I know. It’s a bummer but that triggered something in me. I realized it was a choice. The great Austrian psychiatrist, Viktor Frankl, also learned that he was caught up in the Holocaust and lost his entire family. He was imprisoned for years in the worst of the Nazi death camps and he came out of that and wrote this beautiful book called Man’s Search for Meaning.

I have it on my shelf. I love that book too.

Isn’t it wonderful? It’s so tiny. I encourage everybody to read it. It’s pure gold. He said, “The last of the human freedoms is to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances to choose your own way. Also, that everything else can be taken from you but this freedom to choose how you’re going to respond to this?” That was a revelation to me. I don’t know why I was so late to the party. The stoic philosopher said the same thing years ago but I saw it right in front of me as I was doing these interviews.

That’s how I stumbled upon this whole body of resilience research. I thought, “I cannot compare myself, my experience, and my loss to Viktor Frankl in any way, but I still resonate with this. Maybe that means there are common steps you can take to come back from disaster no matter what the disaster is. That’s what led to my research and these five principles that I now share with other people as The ComeBACK Formula.

I understand that these are free on your website too. You don’t pay. You don’t make people buy the book to get a link or any of that stuff.

No. You can go right to my website, SandraYounger.com, and find this. There’s a PDF of this, The ComeBACK Formula Guidebook. We can go through them quickly if you like.

Yes, let’s do that. I read over it, but I have to say some of it felt like common sense but again, in these moments of defeatist, I think it’s a survival mechanism more than anything. When we get into this negativity loop, we’re trying to learn from something so we don’t repeat it but this is an external force that you can’t control. With something like a fire, you can’t control that it took your home. I think it’s all the more needed to be able to provide people with a framework at a time when they’re struggling. I love it. Let’s start with number one. First things first.

They all are common sense. It’s just that we don’t often think of deploying them maybe is the better word as a strategy and a skillset. We don’t often think, at least I didn’t, that resilience is a buildable skill. We think of it as something that is innate and static. I might have 80% of the resilience that you have. No, we can build it like a muscle. Here are the five steps, and again, there are lots more.

[bctt tweet=”Resilience is not an innate skill. It can be built like a muscle.” via=”no”]

I’ve created these five buckets. The first one in the ComeBACK Formula, I say come because I want us to think about coming to a place of gratitude. Gratitude is this powerful emotion that keeps us from sinking into what I think of as quicksand. This quicksand of bitterness, blame, and victimhood that we’re seeing unfortunately all across our country right now. People feel like victims and they’re using the terminology that this wasn’t fair or this shouldn’t happen.

I try to look at it just a little bit differently because you can feel or be victimized for a brief period of time and that can be totally okay. It’s like, “You’re in the mire,” but what I call these people is the wallowers. It’s almost like they get some sick kind of pleasure from living in it in a way, this bitterness and this wallowing.

It becomes an identity. It’s also a way of escaping responsibility. “It’s not my fault. It’s because somebody else did this to me.”

It’s transference.

There was a lot of blame after our fire. The firefighters didn’t do well enough. They weren’t at my house. There was a 40-foot flame front. How many taxes do we want to pay to have enough resources to sit around and wait for the next twenty-year fire? We don’t have that many resources.

Also, people don’t understand, we have people come in from Oregon and Washington to help fight our fires. There aren’t just local state employees. You have people coming in from out of state to help battle these fires. It’s an incredible thing. There are many companies that erupt overnight essentially to support a tragic occurrence like this but there’s no amount of planning that can prepare you for the wind to shift and suddenly, send embers into crevices a mountain range over. There’s nothing they could do to prepare for that.

There’s a lot they can do to prepare for it, and they’ve made a lot of progress since. In the past many years, it’s just that Mother Nature trumps everything. If there’s a 50 or 60-mile-an-hour wind that’s blowing and there’s zero moisture in all of this grass we’re seeing growing up as a result of our rains. It’s beautiful in green now but as you said at the beginning, it will turn into tender.

If the relative humidity is down in the tens, that’s a perfect setup for a catastrophic fire. With all of the preparation you can do, the bigger aircraft, our state fire agency is now adding C-130 military cargo planes to its tanker fleet. They are enormous but to your point, there’s nothing you can do to combat a huge catastrophic fire occurring in optimum conditions.

It’s like trying to beat back the tide. I think that if you can find, and this is proven by research, one little thing to be grateful for amid a world of hurt, that will immunize you against this wallowing that you mentioned. I think of it as getting stuck in this quicksand where all you can do is be unhappy and blame other people. There’s not a lot of hope there. Hope keeps us going. Gratitude is key. It’s the first step. Also, there are four more steps that are the BACK in the ComeBACK Formula. B stands for two things. One is to Be patient. You can’t rebuild a lost house overnight. We wished we could.

Our local community learned that. Everybody’s trying to rebuild it once but there are only so many construction companies and permits take time. All of it takes time.

It takes so much time. We were fortunate we were back in about a little over two years but I would say three years was the average for rebuilding a house. It’s the same thing. If you have major surgery, you’re not going to be jumping around doing aerobics tomorrow. It takes time for these deep wounds to heal, but they can heal. The second B is to Believe that you can come back because resilience is in our DNA. Resilience is the way of the universe. It’s why spring always follows winter no matter how bad the winter is. That’s the B.

[bctt tweet=”You can always come back because resilience is in our DNA. It is the way of the universe.” via=”no”]

I want to stop you because when you’re talking about being patient and believing, this also connects to something you said, which could be surmised to say that attitude is everything. It’s because if you don’t believe, it’s hard to have a good attitude about anything.

That’s true. They go hand in hand. That’s a good point.

To go back to Viktor Frankl’s perspective, but also you’ll see this in a lot of business texts about attitude and how if you approach something with a belief that it can be done it can inspire creativity. It can keep you a little happier and ultimately, you can see a solution. That’s where we need to keep our energy focused.

I love that analogy because I believe that these principles apply across all areas of our lives, including business. You can see examples of resilient businesses and often it’s that leader that keeps the vision alive. It keeps the hope and the knowledge alive that we can do this. We can come back or we can achieve. That’s the B. Be patient yet Believe it’s possible. A is a little tricky. This is the one that gives us trouble. It did me and that is to Accept help.

I laughed about this one too because I felt like I was looking at myself there. It’s hard to ask for help or to even accept it when it’s offered.

What I say sometimes is to accept help and be tough enough to ask when you need it. Right after the fire, people were showering us with all the stuff. A lot of people saw it as a good opportunity to clean out their garages. One of my friends said I’m going to send you a bunch of designer clothing from the ’80s. Purple tracksuit.

Also, the shoulder pads.

The shoulder pads that they must have stolen from the Green Bay Packers. I was having a hard time with this. It’s like, “No. We’re okay. We’ve got insurance.” A good friend of ours who also happened to be a psychologist and very wise in these issues took me aside and said, “Sandra, your job right now is to be a grateful recipient. That’s your job. You may not need all this help. You may need more than you think but these people are all traumatized by what’s happened to the community too.” It’s that another movie line, “Help me help you. Let me help you.” This asking for help and accepting when it’s offered to you can be the toughest one of all but it’s crucial. It’s part of the resilience formula and it’s a strong builder of resilience.

We’ve talked about C already. This is Viktor Frankl’s great contribution. C is to Choose your attitude. It’s because I’m a storyteller, I like to say, Choose your story. You can be a victim if you want to be or you can be a survivor and someday, a thriver and a giver. You may even be changing some things that came alive in your acknowledgment because of your experience. Choosing your story is key.

The last one is to keep moving forward. The K is Keep moving forward. Baby steps will get you there and celebrating these baby steps as you make progress in coming back from whatever it was. It can be a disaster, an illness, a setback, a relationship breakup, or anything. Just keep moving forward. That is The ComeBACK Formula. A lot of these things include other pieces that are equally important. For example, accepting help and asking when you need it. In my mind, it includes this whole area of social connection and reconnecting with family and friends. Also, realize that we are social creatures. We’re not loners and we need the help of others at times like this.

I completely agree.

That is not being wimpy. That is being wise to look for that connection. It’s also an aspect of faith for many people to ask for help. That is my ComeBACK Formula.

I think you could apply this broadly to even times like we face with the pandemic hitting all of us and the traumas that erupted from that. This show in a way was my response to being so isolated in the midst of the COVID pandemic. As an extrovert who enjoys meeting and connecting with new people, I was suddenly within the walls of my home. Not only for work because I work from home, but then all of your social avenues dissolved because we were encouraged to keep this distance from people.

I’m a hugger. I don’t like not being able to reach out to someone I care about and give them a big hug to show them gratitude and my physical presence as well. We have just been through an assault of these sorts of microtraumas and extended period traumas over the last few years. There’s even more need for resilient tools to help us get through those moments and to connect and convene with one another. Also, to have a language designed to help us through those moments too.

I personally appreciate the simplicity of your five steps. Also, at the same time, the complete transparent share of moments throughout your story is written. I found myself in the intro section where you’re describing getting out and thinking about moments like your husband not being able to find his glasses. Also, thinking about how impactful a tragedy like this coming out of nowhere with that kind of speed could make older people or people who have poor vision feel even more like they’re less able to get out of a moment like this or to feel more trapped.

I think the story is a cautionary tale even in that you came through as a survivor of what it takes to prepare ourselves. There are stories in here about preparing your garden, essentially ensuring that you’ve got a defensible perimeter, which we’re all told to do now if we have land, but many of us don’t have enough space around our homes before the next home is right there.

You’re in the trees too. What do you do about that?

I bought an open space preserve. We have oak trees on our property and a couple of Doug firs. If one of those Doug fir fell down in a fire and hit our fences, that then came up to the home. That could happen.

Also, the Doug firs could block the road, which is another reason to get out early. Sometimes people wait until it gets scary and then they think it’s going to be cool to take selfies with the fire behind them. No.

They’re just stubborn and don’t want to leave their home behind and they’re trying to say, “I’ll defend it with my garden hose.”

I call those the garden hose heroes. They’re on the roof with a garden hose and a 100-foot wall of flame is coming at them. Ahead of that wall of flame is a rolling bank of superheated gases at many thousands of degrees. Are you going to survive that? Nothing you own is worth your life. I recommend that people not try to be garden hose heroes.

It meant that few people in the Paradise Fire survived by jumping into a neighbor’s pool and the flames went over them, but they survived. They could have as easily not survived from too many toxic fumes or passing out from smoke. Now, they’re in the water and they drown. There are all of these potential problems, but sometimes, these things come so fast and heavy that we’re not thinking clearly. Perhaps we can’t find our shoes as you tell a story in your book too. Things that keep you going back yet once more to try and find something before you get out.

I know. You can’t believe that you can’t find it and you keep looking in the same place like you have all the time in the world. I do a lot of public speaking and I often speak to at-risk communities about how not to be a fire victim. I talk about being aware. We were asleep and not aware of the fact that it was a red flag day. Listen to the news and the weather. Pay attention to your gut feeling. Don’t wait for an engraved imitation to evacuate.

It may not come. If you feel like you’re in danger, you probably are and you should act on that and to value your life more than your things. There was a couple who perished in our fire and they were found with a filing cabinet in the back of their pickup. They did not have time to load a filing cabinet into the back of their truck and that leads to the most important thing again, is to evacuate early before it gets scary, before the roads get clogged up, and you’re just sitting there not able to move as the fire is coming.

That’s what happened to a lot of people in the horrific Maui fire. All of these things are good pointers for people, not only, and again, as you said, to begin with not only in fire country, which is more and more of the country, not just California. Look what happened in Texas but any sort of disaster, storms, floods, and tornadoes. Even tsunamis. We have to know if we live in tsunami territory, take precautions, and have a plan. As the climate warms, I’m heartened to see that you spend a lot of time calling attention to that and to potential solutions. We are going to see more and more of these natural disasters. Mother Nature is pretty pissed off right now and with good reason. We have to be ready. We have to know and not be naive.

To your point, they could come from any which way. It used to be in California you worry about earthquakes, which you could never define. I remember how many times I had to go through an earthquake preparedness session at school or something like that. You were taught what to do in the case of an earthquake coming. I remember being in meetings and crawling under my desk in the middle of a meeting because we had an earthquake.

These were also things that you couldn’t prepare for and we were much more attuned to surviving them shortly after the 1989 quake but then we got real comfortable. People stopped storing water and they stopped storing food. Now, that fires are happening almost every year, I think there’s an equal possibility that people almost stopped paying attention to it because, “It’s this again. Everything’s going to be fine.”

Also, it won’t happen to me.

Somehow you live in a neighborhood that isn’t going to be impacted, but that likelihood is drifting further from the truth as time goes on. It’s important that people understand a couple of things. One is that there is this thing called climate lag. Even if we stopped all emissions today, we would still experience worsening conditions for the next 20 to 30 years.

We can expect this summer to be the coolest summer for the next long, long time and that will mean that we have hotter summers, drier summers, and potentially wetter winters where all the water comes all at once. I live on a hill in Scotts Valley. I’ve got an open space preserve, but the lowest point of my home is my office, which is where I’m in right now. It has a cement floor.

I thought it was fine. We’ve been here since 2009 and it flooded in the past three years twice. I’ve had to do some major projects at my home for flood abatement in a space that we never thought would have to have it. We don’t have flood insurance because we’re not in a flood zone. Why would this be a problem?

Thankfully the state enabled us to write off a good portion of this given that disaster fund but it’s essentially driving us to a point where we have to think about how we survive even some of the minor inconveniences. I say minor inconveniences, but they are persistent and annoying like power loss because every time that the wind blows and it’s dry out, PG&E shuts off all the lines because they want to avoid fires from happening. We’ve had power outages that lasted five days purely because of wind with no power.

I have a generator now, and I’m likely this year going to invest in a power wall so that we can store power for two or three days so that I don’t have to run the generator and burn fossil fuels but this can also make people in my seat feel like, “What is this a third world country? I thought we were the developed world.” The reality now is that our infrastructure is not in such a place that we can have that sense of security. PG&E shuts off the power lines when this happens because otherwise, we could see another paradise.

The campfire that destroyed paradise. There is progress also among the utilities. Our own utility here in San Diego, the San Diego Gas and Electric is a front runner here. They have created a network of monitors all across the backcountry so that they can tell with surgical precision, which areas are experiencing the highest winds, and where they can shut off certain circuits instead of doing this blanket shutoff that PG&E has had to go to because of their responsibility for some of these catastrophic deadly fires.

As that technology becomes the new technology or the standard, I hope across a lot of electrical companies, we will be able to eliminate some of that risk. For people who are reading, when the winds are high, they can blow power lines down. They can blow power lines together as they hang off the towers and that creates a spark that arcs down to the ground and sets off these dry grasses. Again, the wind is blowing 50 to 60 miles an hour.

The horrific fire we saw in Texas. They are saying in the headlines was probably started by electrical equipment. Certainly, it was the reason for the Maui fire that eclipsed the campfire that killed paradise citizens in terms of casualty. We have gotten so smart as people. We can have all of these cool things powered by electricity and yet there are some trade-offs there. There is hope I think for mitigating that risk.

The situation I think is such that we need to enact something more of a public works project that will move our power lines underground where they probably should have been. At the time we instilled all these projects, specifically in California where we were introducing fiber optic cables through all these neighborhoods and in many cases, at the same time, also moving the power underground because they were separate projects.

We need to modernize our infrastructure to be more akin to what they already do in Europe, which is largely off of fossil fuels for heating buildings. They’ll often work with things like heat pumps in the homes and things that don’t emit as much and that ultimately don’t damage the environment the same way and are more efficient, all these things. We have a long way to come, but it’s almost, “Where there’s a will, there’s a way.” The will is there, but the financial power isn’t there.

It comes down to money, doesn’t it? We don’t want to raise taxes. The corporations don’t want to lose profits, but as you point out, the solutions are out there, which to me counters despair. Back to gratitude. I’m grateful that the solutions are out there. I’m grateful that there are so many people in places of agency and power to affect some of these changes. I’ve tried to do my part by reissuing this book and positioning it as it’s now seen as one of the first of these climate-driven modern mega-fires. I appreciate your calling attention to that and to what we’re seeing now twenty years on with these even more outrageous fires.

Care More Be Better | Sandra Younger | Forest Fire
Forest Fire: For woman holding book: I’m grateful that there are many people in places of agency and power to affect some of these changes. I’ve tried to do my part by reissuing this book.

 

I appreciate your work through and through. I can see why it’s been selected even as a textbook in some cases so people can get a better understanding of the perils of climate change and these sorts of things that we need to understand and move through from even that psychological perspective. You mentioned before that you often speak keynote things like this. I also see that you offer services from a business coaching perspective. I would love for you to talk a little bit about what you do beyond this work so that people that are interested in connecting with you have a purview of how they might collaborate.

Thanks for that opportunity. Yes, I do see myself these days as an author, a speaker, and a coach. That all came as this fire experience took me into new territory literally and metaphorically. The book gave me a platform to speak not only about the lessons learned from the fire, but these lessons I’ve shared with your audience about resilience and how we came back also to neighborhoods at risk so that they can be better prepared.

Sometimes it’s easier for us to believe a person like ourselves, someone from the public rather than a firefighter or a power company representative. I do speak a lot on that. Also, people began coming to me for support after a fire. People would call and say, “Would you talk with my friend who just lost her house in this or that fire?” Of course, I will.

Also, emergency responders, emergency professionals, I’ve spoken to a lot of their conferences and every now and then someone will take me aside and share some of their experiences and how this resilience work resonated with them. As I was doing more and more of this coaching work, I wanted to be doing it right and first do no harm. I wanted to be able to be helpful and not exacerbate anyone’s trauma.

I went and got coach training and it led to an ICF certificate as a certified professional coach. ICF stands for International Coaching Federation, which is the gold standard in the accrediting body of coaching. I am ICF-certified and on my way to becoming ICF-credentialed. It’s a further step to provide life coaching and business coaching. Usually, we talk about what are your aspirations and where are you now. Where do you want to be? Let’s talk about how to get there. I love coaching because it’s not therapy. It’s not looking back and trying to undo past trauma that may lead to pathologies. It’s none of that. It’s a creative partnership where I don’t tell you what to do. I help you define the answers within yourself by listening carefully, making observations, and asking powerful questions. That is the coaching process. If that appeals to anyone for any reason, career, personal, disaster-related, or business.

[bctt tweet=”Coaching is not just about looking back and trying to undo the past. It is a creative partnership where you find the answers within yourself, listening carefully and asking powerful questions.” via=”no”]

I have to say it resonates nicely with your five steps too because what is that last one? You march forward. You have to plan for the future and continue.

That was our group project that we had to do within our coaching program and we chose to do resilience. We look at it across many different dimensions. Again, people can connect with me on my website, SandraYounger.com. They can find the book. They can find the complimentary gift of The ComeBACK Formula. This goes into a little more depth about what we covered. They can contact me for speaking or coaching.

I also want to remind our audience that I’ve covered the topic of resilience before but from a medical doctor’s perspective. If you’re deep in this conversation and you want to learn more about resilience, you can go to my episode with Dr. Deborah Gilboa where she talks about her workbook, which is From Stressed To Resilient because as she put it, if there’s anyone that’s stressed, it’s a single mom MD working with the thriving practice. She had four boys and was doing the single mom thing.

Yes. My heart goes out to her.

You may be encountering stresses that do not relate to a home burning down or something tragic, but it could be that modern life. That’s another great conversation. Thank you so much for joining me. I enjoyed this conversation. I appreciate your story. I applaud you for being so transparent about the entire process because it’s hard to get out there and share it all, especially when in a way, you are having to revisit those old wounds along the way.

Yes, and it was cathartic. I will say that. It was good medicine for me coming out of the fire. Thank you so much for inviting me to share with your audience. It’s been a pleasure.

To find out more about Sandra Younger and her work, visit SandraYounger.com. You can also get there from Sandra Miller’s Younger. If you do buy Sandra’s book through my Amazon shop, a very small portion will go to support this show, and that’s something that Amazon does for anybody who points links through. If you love the book or if you want to connect with it, please go ahead and use my Amazon shop.

If you enjoyed this episode, please subscribe and while you’re at it, give us a five-star rating and write us a review. Tell us what you love and perhaps even what you didn’t. All feedback is valuable and helps to plan the trajectory of this show. Often, guests are even those individuals who are referred by readers. If there’s someone you think I should interview, please send a note. You can do so through social channels, through the website, or through simply sending me an email to Hello@CareMoreBeBetter.com.

Thank you readers now and always for being a part of this show and this community because together, we can do so much more. We can care more, we can be better, and we can build a more resilient and supportive society with daily practices of gratitude, patience, acceptance, storytelling, and a commitment to move forward. Thank you.

 

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