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My Valley, My Story: Mental Health Needs Following The Erskine Fire

Inciweb / US Forest Service
The Erskine fire, which ignited in June 2016, killed two people, destroyed 280 homes and burned over 48,000 acres in the Kern River Valley.

A little over a year ago, a worn out power line touched off the Erskine Fire, which razed nearly 50,000 acres near Lake Isabella east of Bakersfield. The fire devastated an area already in need of mental health care. As part of our first-person series My Valley, My Story, we hear the concerns of Heather Berry, a licensed clinical social worker who serves the entire Kern River Valley.

"Per capita, we have more mental illness, more people who suffer with emotional and mental health issues, because of the rural isolation. We also have a huge amount of substance abuse.

"In terms of mental health providers, we’re incredibly limited. I’m the only one in private practice, therefore taking private insurances. Truthfully, it feels incredibly overwhelming because I can’t keep up. I have a constant backlog of people that I’m needing to help find services outside of this area, which is an hour’s drive away through a very challenging canyon.

"It’s doubly overwhelming because this community was impacted by Kern County’s most severe fire, and 300 homes burned to the ground in 48 hours. So we have a community in post-traumatic stress, and we don’t have adequate mental health. "

Kerry Klein is an award-winning reporter whose coverage of public health, air pollution, drinking water access and wildfires in the San Joaquin Valley has been featured on NPR, KQED, Science Friday and Kaiser Health News. Her work has earned numerous regional Edward R. Murrow and Golden Mike Awards and has been recognized by the Association of Health Care Journalists and Society of Environmental Journalists. Her podcast Escape From Mammoth Pool was named a podcast “listeners couldn’t get enough of in 2021” by the radio aggregator NPR One.
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