Photo of a three people sitting on a rock on Lookout Mountain with a scenic overview of Boulder.

Written by Stanley Ly, MA, LPC, Director, Faculty and Staff Assistance Program

Dec 30, 2022 will mark the one year anniversary since the Marshall Fire damaged and destroyed more than 1,000 homes and businesses in Superior, Louisville and Boulder County, disrupting and displacing many lives in our community. We understand that this anniversary may be difficult for many of our community members, especially as responders continue efforts to contain the Sunshine Wildland Fire outside of Boulder.

Anniversaries of difficult and traumatic events may bring up a variety of feelings or lead to intense reactions. Although it may be tempting to find ways to avoid those difficult feelings, bringing purposeful attention and self-compassion around anniversaries of traumatic events, like the Marshall Fire, can make these reactions less severe and help those affected feel more empowered.

Anniversary reactions

Anniversary reactions are usually involuntary feelings on or near the anniversary date that bring up strong reminders or memories of a traumatic event itself. These involuntary feelings may resemble fearfulness, anxiety, sadness, numbness, hyperarousal or other difficult feelings.

Physical symptoms, like stomach pain, fatigue, nervousness, lethargy or headaches, may also manifest near the anniversary date. Those who have been affected may find themselves isolating, or using alcohol or other drugs to cope.  

It is also important to note that the impact of an anniversary can vary from person to person and it’s best to try not to compare the experiences of those who were impacted by the same or similar event, as it is common to have different needs and reactions, even within the same family.

For Marshall Fire survivors, the one year anniversary may bring about particular sensitivity to the wind or the smell of smoke, including smoke plumes from a chimney. They may also experience acute anxiety and grief

What to do about anniversary reactions

Look to be proactive and intentional about taking care of yourself on the anniversary, as well as the days leading up to the anniversary. 

Here are some ideas to consider:

  • Identify the people in your life who care about you and make plans to contact each other and stay connected.
  • Incorporate movement into your day, such as exercising, walking, hiking or whatever else helps your body and mind feel strong.
  • Try to engage in things and people that help you to feel more loved and present in the moment.
  • Eat nourishing foods and stay hydrated.
  • Practice good sleep hygiene.
  • Limit or avoid using substances like drugs and alcohol to attempt to nullify painful or difficult emotions.
  • Externalize your thoughts and feelings through activities like journaling, art or physical activities.
  • Practice acceptance and letting go of what is no longer possible, like wishing for a different outcome. Instead, try to focus on what is within your realm of influence and control.
  • Volunteer for meaningful organizations and causes.

Helping children cope

Parents should pay close attention to their children’s’ reactions and behavior around the anniversary of traumatic events. Non-adult children may not possess the emotional insight and language to identify their feelings, let alone communicate their feelings or ask for help. Children are also more likely to demonstrate their feelings through changes in their behavior. 

Here are some tips to consider:

  • Validate and listen to children’s feelings without judgment.
  • Notice changes in behavior. This could be anything from changes in sleep patterns to becoming more attached or, alternatively, keeping more distance from family members or friends.
  • Use language children can understand, talk to them about what they may be feeling and reassure them that you are there for them.
  • Offer children space to express their feelings and ask questions. Be honest and reassuring.
  • Avoid forcing them to talk.
  • Do not make promises you cannot fulfill, like, “This will never happen again.”
  • Maintain a predictable schedule. Predictability tends to help children feel assured in what is to come next, which can help offset feelings of unease or uncertainty that trauma may invoke.
  • Encourage children to eat nourishing foods, stay hydrated and practice healthy sleep habits.
  • If you know a child will likely be affected by an anniversary, it can be helpful to communicate with their teachers if they are at an age where that would be helpful and not invasive.

Helping survivors of the Marshall Fire

You may find yourself empowered and motivated to support a colleague or friend who was impacted by the Marshall Fire. 

Here are some tips:

  • Listen for understanding and validate their feelings. If you’re unsure what to say, try to keep it simple with statements like, “I’m here for you, and I’m with you”.
  • Don’t advise, provide feedback or try to make light of the situation unless you’re asked.
  • Not sure what to do? Ask how you can be there for them.
  • Invite them to participate in a shared hobby.
  • Don’t be afraid to check in—it’s a misconception that checking in about a potentially difficult topic can make things worse or feel invasive. Do so with genuine care and, ultimately, respect their wishes. If the outcome is not what you were expecting, take a breath, reflect upon your intent and respect their wishes. Checking to see how someone is doing is not about ourselves or our own egos.
  • Keep your promises. If you say you’re there for them, be there for them when called upon.


The Marshall Fire disrupted many community members' sense of safety and comfort, whether they were directly or indirectly  affected. The wildfire uprooted families and neighbors, changing the landscape of communities, in some cases permanently. Practicing mindfulness and letting go of things that are no longer possible affords you a chance to process grief and recycle that energy into the people and things that meaningfully contribute to your life and the important lives around you.

Learn more ways to help yourself and others following a traumatic event

Support resources for staff and faculty

There are a variety of support resources on and off campus that are  available to those who were directly or indirectly impacted by the Marshall Fire. 

On-campus resources

Faculty and Staff Assistance Program (FSAP)

The Faculty and Staff Assistance Program is dedicated to serving the mental health needs of CU staff and faculty members. Employees can receive free short-term counseling with a licensed FSAP therapist or clinical intern. In addition to individual counseling sessions, FSAP provides relationship and family counseling services. Counseling is available in person and virtually. 

Office of Victim Assistance (OVA)

OVA provides free and confidential information, consultation, support, advocacy and short-term, trauma-focused counseling services for those who have experienced and/or witnessed a traumatic or disturbing event. OVA’s counselors and advocates are trained and experienced in trauma counseling and serve as CU Boulder’s trauma experts. Counseling offers clients a safe space to explore and process what they have experienced and to develop skills to move forward in their lives. 

AcademicLiveCare (ALC)

AcademicLiveCare is a telehealth platform that allows CU Boulder staff and faculty to schedule medical and mental health appointments virtually. Through this program, you can see board-certified healthcare professionals from your home, office or anywhere you go. All you need is a smartphone, computer, tablet or other mobile device.

Thriving Campus

Thriving Campus is a free service that can help you connect with community mental health providers based on your interests, needs and insurance plan. 

CU Boulder Fire Resources

Learn about assistance programs that are available to CU staff and faculty impacted by wildfires. Resources include financial assistance, housing and food assistance, counseling and advocacy, leave policies and accommodations.

Mobile Food Pantries

The mobile food pantry is free and open to CU Boulder students, faculty and staff, as well as community members of Boulder and Broomfield Counties. Food will be distributed on a first-come, first-served basis. Attendees will receive up to 30 pounds of food in multiple boxes.

Community resources

Boulder County Marshall Fire Recovery

Find information and resources for those impacted by the fire as our community begins the healing and rebuilding process.

State of Colorado Housing Recovery Program

The goal of the State of Colorado Housing Recovery Program is to provide additional resources for rebuilding to those who need assistance in order to remain in their communities in the wake of a natural disaster. Disaster-affected households can apply for grants or loans through this program.

Real Help Hotline

The Real Help Hotline gives you access to professional counselors who can offer assistance finding local resources or provide immediate crisis counseling. It’s a free and confidential service and it’s available 24/7. The service is available to all members covered under any of CU’s medical insurance plans.

If you need help, reach out. The number to call is 833-533-2428.

About the author

Stanley Ly is the director of the Faculty and Staff Assistance Program at University of Colorado Boulder. In 2014, he provided psychological first aid and trauma recovery tools to individuals affected by the floods in Boulder County in 2013. Over the past 15-years, he has worked with sexual assault crisis hotlines, hospitals, jails and higher-education universities providing counseling and psychological support for individuals in Boulder, CO and surrounding areas.