What I Learned When My Home Burned in a Wildfire

On June 11, 2013, Colorado’s Black Forest Wildfire destroyed 507 homes, including mine. One day I had a house and the next day I didn’t.

Colorado motivational speaker, Laura Benjamin

One day you’re on stable ground and the next day you’re not. Can you relate?

Ever been through a change that rocked your world? Maybe it was personal or perhaps something happened at work.

I learned a few things from the fire, then spoke about it at a state human resources conference. Hopefully you’ll find value, inspiration and a few ideas from my speech, especially if you’re leading others through times of change:

A smooth sea never made a skilled mariner. –English Proverb

1. Gather a team to help you build a new future. I had help from folks at the Disaster Assistance Center, an architect, my builder, family and friends. You shouldn’t walk this path alone. People want to be there for you. If they ask how they can help, tell them you need information: articles, books, websites, names of people to connect with. You may not see the value right now, but you will before long.

2. Clear the “debris”. Too much clutter will not serve you well. Coco Chanel, the fashion designer said, “It’s in the act of deciding what to remove that we place value on what’s left behind.” So remove distractions that could cause overwhelm and then be cautious what you bring back into your life. Be choosy about how you spend your time and who you spend it with.

3. Expect emotion. At one of our fire recovery public meetings, the moderator kept repeating the words, “I know you’re frustrated.” Then someone from the back of the room shouted, “We’re not frustrated; we’re scared!” People do get scared, and they don’t usually name it as clearly as that person did. Stress hormones flood the system and hamper the executive, logical, decision-making part of the brain. Emotions pop up in ways you might not expect. Find a professional to help you cope.

4. Write a “breadcrumbs book”. This doesn’t need to be a full-fledged journal (although journaling is another excellent way to process change). It’s a bulleted list of things that happen, decisions you choose, people you meet with, payments you make, places you go. Date each entry. It’ll give you a handy reference tool to track a noteworthy event or look back to see just how far you’ve come.

5. Remember this is a marathon, not a sprint. You’re in this for the long haul, so pace yourself. Adapting to a transition may happen gradually. No one expects you to bounce back immediately. Cut yourself slack and appreciate the small “wins” when they happen. Note them in your breadcrumbs book or journal. Studies show that people who look for things to be grateful for are better able to fight stress, anxiety and depression.

Some good will come of this. It may be hard to imagine, but good things have come from losing the house in the fire. We are rebuilding and will indeed rise from the ashes. And you will too!

(NOTE: I’m happy to share lessons learned from this story at your next conference or group meeting, so please feel free to contact me.)

Please forward this post. And share with us in comments, what tips have helped you get through times of trauma, transition and change?


  1. I love this article……excellent points!!!!!
    Disaster’s teach us a lot – I to have learned the hard way.
    Proud of you!


    • LJBenjamin says:

      Thank you Willie! Disaster does teach us and as a result, we are then able to be of better service to others. Glad you survived your trials!