The Camp Fire started with a spark — and, thanks to the wind, it turned into a terrifying blaze in a matter of hours. The fire burned so fast that evacuation orders sometimes couldn’t keep up. With thousands of structures destroyed and a growing death toll, the Camp Fire is the deadliest blaze in California history — and in addition to human victims, it’s claimed a number of animals, as well.
Among those who survived, some are safely sheltering with their people or settled into foster homes, but thousands more are being picked up and cared for by rescue groups. The process of reuniting pets and humans may take weeks or months, and it will involve an extended sheltering and rescue effort. In Santa Rosa, California, where a massive wildfire tore through the city last October, rescuers are still trapping “fire cats” and helping them get home to their people.
In Butte County, men like Jeff Evans are feeding and checking on animals inside the disaster zone since their families can’t reach them. Meanwhile, a feline burn victim is making headlines after falling in love with a firefighter — and firefighters have been spending time at local veterinary clinics visiting with rescued animals, in addition to benefiting from the presence of therapy animals traveling to the front lines to offer comfort.
Another fire crew rescued Charlie the cat, who was ultimately reunited with his family thanks to publicity. First responders like firefighters tend to be first to see animals like “Camp” the dog in need, but a TV crew helped rescue some trapped dogs, too! For instance, Sacramento Beereporter Ryan Sabalow rescued a badly burned cat, London, and successfully located its guardian.
Rescuers range from trained professionals to volunteers from all walks of life, and their efforts are vital whether they’re cleaning enclosures, sorting donations or providing skilled veterinary care.
The story of the people coming together to support the animal victims of the Camp Fire is remarkable and inspiring, but it’s also a reminder that fire evacuation sometimes happens so fast that people — and their pets — have difficulty getting out alive.
While some on social media have been swift to criticize people who couldn’t get their pets out, that elides people who had animals at home while they were at work and unable to get into the evacuation zone, as well as those with pets who escaped before they could be evacuated. Many of those panicked, heartbroken people are hoping they recognize the faces of their animals on the news and also fearing the worst.
We’ve learned a lot about handling animal care and sheltering needs in disasters, with experienced groups like the San Diego Humane Society, the Humane Society of the United States, and RedRover moving in quickly to provide on the ground support, alongside the North Valley Animal Disaster Group and Butte Humane Society.
Another lesson we’ve learned is the value of evacuating animals from shelters as quickly as possible — and getting adoptable animals distributed to out-of-area shelters, like the San Francisco ASPCA, to make room for evacuees and rescues. The magnitude of this disaster means that some fire pets are being evacuated to out of area shelters for care, but they won’t be made available for adoption until every possible effort has been made to reunite them with their families.
Rescue groups are also swift to set up sheltering and care facilities; the Chico Airport has turned into a massive animal care site, with 1,500 temporary residents. Meanwhile, the University of California, Davis is treating badly injured animals — you can learn more about the animals in their care, look for your pets and find out how to donate here. NVDAG is also maintaining a growing database of animals in care for pet guardians to search, and VCA Valley Oak Veterinary Center is cataloging burn patients.
Be advised that fire injuries can change the way animals look quite dramatically, including distorting features and discoloring fur. Having photographs and documentation of the animal’s chip can help with a successful reunion.
A similar animal rescue has sprung up around Southern California’s Woolsey Fire, where a news reporter took up the cause of a cat rescued from a burning home and has been providing regular updates. Rescue groups have also raised concern about the evacuation of large animals, including exotics, from the Woolsey fire zone; a now-famous picture of exotic animals seeking shelter on a beach has been making headlines around the world.