Wildfires affect many aspects of a community beyond the charred and devastated landscape. During a major blaze, residents must deal with smoke, fire retardants, evacuations, power outages, disrupted supply chains, and more.
Often forgotten in the equation are the damaging effects wildfire has on domestic animals. Smoke-induced respiratory problems, exposure to firefighting chemicals, and injuries from running through barbed-wire fences are common.
Linda McLean, WSU Extension director for the Colville Reservation helps residents prepare for wildfire season through public workshops and a variety of fire-related resources. She urges all pet and livestock owners to create an emergency evacuation plan for the safe transportation and shelter of animals before the need arises.
Tips for protecting your four-legged family:
- Wildfire smoke can affect pets and livestock the same way it does people. After a fire, many animals develop respiratory problems. Airway trauma can take 4-6 weeks to heal so McLean suggests giving livestock at least that long to recuperate before attempting to move, handle, or transport them.
- Wildfires can cause significant damage to pastures and rangeland. Grazing may need to be deferred for a few years and the area replanted. Livestock should not immediately be returned to a burned pasture.
- It’s important to keep photos and accurate records for animals, noting any identifying characteristics. During a fire, cattle can become separated from their herds and show up as strays on neighboring ranches. Horses, dogs, and cats are often handled by strangers during evacuations and sometimes not allowed to stay with their owners in emergency shelters.
- There are three categories of wildland fire chemicals used to suppress a blaze: retardants, foaming agents, and water enhancers. The red retardants are typically sprayed from an aircraft. Though extensively tested and determined to be safe, retardants contain ammonium phosphate, which is used as an agricultural fertilizer. Water contaminated with retardant could result in algal blooms, fish kills, and sick livestock. It is recommended that water be tested for nitrates before allowing animals access.
- Foaming agents and water enhancers are often used by ground firefighters. The foams are similar to strong dish-washing detergent. Water enhancers contain slippery, super-absorbent polymers that can hold water in place for several hours. McLean says it’s best to keep pets and livestock away from puddles, ponds, or stock tanks where either substance has been sprayed.
- If your animals come in contact with any of these chemicals, they should be bathed and observed for signs of illness. Alert your veterinarian if symptoms occur.