On December 30, Kathe Perez’s daughter called and asked if she had heard of a fire that was rapidly approaching the town where Perez lived.
Perez was at home in Louisville at the time. She decided to put away her work gear and go to a cafe to continue working. She would go home tomorrow, she thought.
That same day, Danielle Conroy was spending a cozy day in her pajamas with her family at their Louisville home. She learned that a blazing fire was approaching her home from a text message her son received from a friend in Superior.
Conroy’s family packed up and left.
Neither Conroy nor Perez have been able to return home since. At least not in the houses they remember.
“I feel like I’ve been blasted into a million pieces and I don’t know how to get home,” Perez said. “Every day is difficult because I don’t know if I will find my way back.”
Both Perez and Conroy spoke Monday afternoon at a virtual collective trauma healing event hosted by the University of Colorado at Boulder, Naropa University and The Pocket Project. This is the second event organized by the schools and the organization. The former focused on violence, particularly after 10 people were killed in a mass shooting at King Soopers in Boulder.
Beverly Kingston, director of the Center for the Study and Prevention of Violence at CU Boulder, said she spoke with Naropa and The Pocket Project shortly after the New Year and spoke about the Marshall fire. Together they decided to organize a collective trauma healing event for those affected by the fire.
“Survivors often say, ‘What we wish the most is that this event could have been avoided,'” Kingston said after the event. “My hope is that we can go further and further upstream. I know our cities are working on how to do that. I think that’s part of building more resilient communities. I’m really glad we can practice that here.
Kingston said that at one point during the event, around 500 people – from around the world – were attending the Zoom workshop on Monday.
During the workshop, Thomas Hübl, founder of The Pocket Project, asked the audience to take time to reflect on their day and check in on how they were feeling.
“Witnessing carefully already has an effect,” he said. “That’s what we want to induce today.”
Marcia Romero, from Northern California, spoke at the workshop. She said she had experienced major wildfires in California, such as the Campfire – the most destructive wildfire in state history.
“I live in the woods, and of course we have drought, and just walking outside you can feel the heat and the drought and you can see how nature and the trees are affected,” she said. “It’s just kind of heartbreaking to feel that trauma in nature too.”
Unlike the Camp Fire or the Cameron Peak Fire, the Marshall Fire was a conflagration, said Boulder Fire Chief Michael Calderazzo.
“These were houses setting fire to other houses,” he said at the workshop.
Hübl asked Calderazzo how he dealt with disasters such as the Marshall fire.
Calderazzo said he got away with it through humor — by shedding light on a serious situation.
“They call it gallows humor because of what you see all the time,” he said. “I also feel constant loss and doubts. It’s healthy because you want to be better, but it can also be destructive.
Witnessing what others are going through or feeling is part of the journey, said Kosha Joubert, CEO of The Pocket Project.
“None of us can do it alone,” she said. “We all have to do this together. We all need to be loved to allow our love to blossom more.