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California wildfire survivor shares advice to those impacted by Marshall Fire

"I think in life, as we go through, we gather up the tools we need to live our life, but you never gather this one until it happens," Julie Wuest said.

BOULDER COUNTY, Colo. — For hundreds of homeowners impacted by the Marshall Fire, the last few weeks are just the beginning of a long recovery process. No one knows that better than someone who has already been through it.

"I think in life, as we go through, we gather up the tools we need to live our life, but you never gather this one until it happens," Julie Wuest said. 

The California resident is a survivor of the 2020 CZU Complex fires, which destroyed more than 1,400 structures. 

"You don’t know what you’re doing," she said as she thought back to the first few weeks. "You have no idea what you’re doing. You know FEMA’s there. You’re filling out forms. You’re just numbly getting through each day with no map. This is like being blind and not having a map, right? So you kind of take what’s fed to you because that’s all there is to eat."

A year and a half later, Wuest is still going through the recovery process, but over the last 18 months, she has learned a lot. Wuest shared some advice to the Marshall Fire survivors now embarking on this journey:

  • Have a go-bag or list ready with important documents, keepsakes and essentials. 
  • Get a third-party company to manage the insurance claim. The company would work with the insurance agent in your favor. 
  • Only use vetted contractors.
  • Think about getting Firewise certified to learn preventable steps. 
  • Give yourself some grace.

"Be easy on yourself. Your first year is going to be tough," Wuest said. "I'm not emotional, but with that many people, I just know that scream. You know, there's a scar in your life." 

Wuest encouraged homeowners to take care of their mental health through the whole process. For those who still have homes standing, she advised taking another look at your insurance plan to make sure you have enough coverage.

RELATED: Marshall Fire survivors have received $43.6 million in federal aid, FEMA says

RELATED: Lawmakers plan to introduce bill to make insurance claim process easier for fire victims

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