May 21, 2019

Living With a New Normal After Woolsey

The Thomas Fire destroyed homes across the street from Temple Beth Torah congregant Jim Heller. Photo by Jim Heller

In the aftermath of the Woolsey Fire, the new normal for those who have been able to return home, and actually have a home to return to, hasn’t been easy.

“I really feel like our whole community is walking around in a chronic state of low-level shock,” Oak Park resident Barbara Foster Bietz, whose home miraculously survived the fires, told the Journal. “For us and our community, [the fire came] on the heels of the very local [Borderline] shooting, which was devastating. And that came on the heels of the synagogue shooting [in Pittsburgh], which impacts all of us, but especially the Jewish community. It’s so sad. Everybody says that like a million times a day. So sad. So much loss.”

However, she said seeing so many groups come together has helped the recovery process. “We all feel that need to connect with each other and share our stories,” she said. “Everyone has a harrowing story of how they got out, the close call, the neighbor whose house didn’t make it. The fact that everybody knows someone who knows someone is just a reminder of how small our world really is and how connected we really are.”

“I really feel like our whole community is walking around in a chronic state of low-level shock.”

— Barbara Foster Bietz

Foster Bietz spoke of being one of the lucky ones, with only her backyard being damaged. “There are some spots where several houses in a row were lost, and there are some spots where one house here, one house there [was lost],” she said. “The miracle,” she added, “is that people got out safely, which is something to be grateful for.”

However, Foster Bietz will be hosting at least 26 people for Thanksgiving at her home. “When we were evacuated, my cousin said, ‘Are you okay? You don’t have to [host].’ I said, ‘No, I really want to do it.’”

She said hosting Thanksgiving is an opportunity to “use the time to acknowledge not just what we’re grateful for, but those who do not have a lot to be grateful for. We have to keep them in our thoughts.”