For the last two weeks, California and much of the western-coast has been subject to raging wildfire, caused by extreme heat, high winds and unusually low levels of humidity. The Thomas fire has so far damaged a staggering 800 homes and 230,000 acres of land across both Ventura and Santa Barbara counties. While the priority has been saving as many human lives and preventing as much damage to property as possible, there has also been a lot of news coverage regarding animal safety and rescue; this applies to both livestock and household pets. Some of this coverage has provided contradictory guidance in terms of whether or not you should help these animals, and how you can do this without putting yourself at risk. With this in mind, we thought we would list a few ways that you can help both fleeing livestock and domestic animals, whilst keeping out of harm’s way.
- Make sure your pets are identifiable. Natural disasters like wildfire often cause domestic animals to run away too, and some are left behind by owners who had no choice but to evacuate immediately. Whether it’s by chipping your pet or having your details printed on their collar, please try to ensure that your pet can be traced back to you, for both their sake and yours!`
- Leave water out for them. Animals fleeing the wildfires will most likely be hungry and thirsty; they might have injuries from the flames or be suffering from smoke inhalation, and their usual water sources may have dried up. Leaving containers of water outside (not necessarily by your front door, but on nearby land) gives animals a way of helping themselves without your direct intervention. They can cool down, wash, and crucially rehydrate for what could be the first time in days.
- Try not to interact with wild animals. This week a video of a man diving into a blazing hedgerow to rescue a wild rabbit has gone viral across many social media platforms, but many experts are coming forward claiming that his actions were irresponsible. Animals fleeing fire will be disoriented and may act unpredictably, but they will also be following their instincts; human intervention could disrupt their natural behavior.
- Bring your pets inside at night. Do this in the daytime too if they are at risk of smoke inhalation, but you reduce the risk of your pets becoming confused or scared and running away if you keep them with you overnight. This will also keep them safe from distressed wild animals that may be passing through, and other environmental hazards caused by wildfire.
- Contact local shelters. If you come across animals who are trapped or at risk, the best thing you can do is get in touch with local organizations who are making rescue efforts; you could even volunteer or make a donation! Here are a few charities doing amazing work with animals who have been displaced or hurt:
The Sonoma Humane Society is a non-profit who describe themselves as a ‘donor supported safe haven for animals’ – they’re based in Santa Rosa but they have multiple adoption centers and a public veterinary hospital.
The Los Angeles County Animal Care Foundation is the ‘largest animal sheltering organization in the nation, caring for 60,000 animals each year in seven animal care centers located throughout Los Angeles county.’ They re-home pets and fund various welfare projects such as spaying and neutering services.
The Gentle Barn Emergency Animal Rescue Service provides a temporary home for animals who are in danger, injured or abandoned. While many other shelters focus specifically on domestic animals and pets, the Gentle Barn also looks after larger animals like horses, goats, sheep, and cattle.
For more information on how to get involved by bringing an animal in, reporting a sighting, volunteering or donating, please follow the hyperlinks above.
 Statistics from: https://www.theguardian.com/world/2017/dec/10/california-wildfires-thomas-fire-santa-barbara-evacuation
Photograph sourced via: https://accuweather.brightspotcdn.com/0e/31/3436ca7540c58f6cc141148f5063/thomas-fire-12-11-2017.jpg