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Local nurses counsel fire victims

Important to 'just talk'

Posted: November 17, 2008 9:25 p.m.
Updated: November 18, 2008 4:55 a.m.

Patricia Attalla stands near a line of Oak Ridge residents waiting to board a bus to the burned out area.


SYLMAR - Gail Smith stood in line with her neighbors, waiting to tour her burned-out Sylmar neighborhood Monday.

The white-haired woman, who lives alone, was optimistic. Smith saw her neighbors' homes burn on TV.

"My house is standing," she said with confidence. "I saw it on the TV news. We could see it on the aerial shot."

Smith lives on Carriage Street, a charred area that was once the Oak Ridge Mobile Home Park.

The emotional pain of homeowners was troubling for one veteran Santa Clarita mental health professional who accompanied fire victims on bus rides Monday.

"I had to prepare myself," said Patricia Attalla, a registered nurse and mental health counselor who works under the Mental Health Services Act for the county's Department of Mental Health.

"I could just hear them," she said about homeowners breaking down at the sight of their charred homes.

"As a clinician, I had to keep it together, but it's tough," she said.

The scene of devastation for bus loads of Oak Ridge Mobile Home residents was overwhelming.

"One couple was holding each other in tears," Attalla said. "Another person was pleading, ‘Please, let me off'."

Attalla survived wildfires near her home last year.

Attalla also heard neighbors suddenly bound by hope.

"On the bus, I kept hearing, ‘We're going to get through this, we're going to rebuild,'" she said.

Attalla has counseled victims for 10 years.

The important thing to remember for anyone dealing with a fire victim is communication.

"Just talk," she said.


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