The devastating Valley Fire that ravaged the Northern Californian forests and claimed six human lives is now mostly contained – providing a little relief to the thousands of people who lost their homes and everything else they owned in the apocalyptic flames.
The loss of human lives was extremely tragic and only compounded by the other casualties that went widely unnoticed, namely pets and the stray animals.
The wildfire spread so quickly that people barely had time to evacuate. Some of them were not even at home when they realized they had to flee, which is why many pets stayed locked inside the houses while their owners took off.
“It was chaos,” Sonoma County animal control officer Shirley Zindler told The Huffington Post. “The fire came through so fast and so hot, people didn’t have time to grab their animals.”
Although there is no official tally for animal casualties in the valley fire, the officials believe that “many thousands of animals were affected by the fires through death, injury or displacement.”
While communities have finally begun the arduous task of rebuilding the damaged houses, rescue groups and veterinary hospitals are still struggling with the treatment and placement of animals – most of whom were trapped under the rubble for several days following the fire.
“Early last week … we were still pulling horribly burned cats out of the wreckage,” added Zindler. “The immediate crisis is over, but you’ve got thousands of people without homes, animals roaming loose.”
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“We broke the door down and got the dogs, who were still in their crates … I was in contact with the owner, who could get not past barricades,” explained Karen Schaver, director of nonprofit Orphan Dog Rescue and a member of disaster response group Lake Evacuation and Animal Protection.
The organization is not only rescuing canines from the rubble, they are also boarding the dogs whose owners were able to save them but now lack homes themselves and need a place for their pets to stay temporarily.
Moreover, Middletown Animal Hospital in Middletown, California, is treating the burnt and injured animals free of charge. They reportedly treated about 500 animals in the first two weeks of blazes in Lake County, both in the clinic and in the field.
Apart from suffering major burns, some animals were shot because they were roaming loose while others had eaten things that they shouldn’t have.
“The first few days were like a scene from Cormac McCarthy’s The Road. Really hot, grey, smoky, couldn’t see very far. Poles and electrical wires suspended in mid-air, burning from the bottom like a smoldering crucifix,” recalled Veterinarian Jeff Smith. “It’s been a terrible disaster but it’s been nice to see the human response. I think we’re entering the hard, more difficult part of the work.”
Along with local services and pet shelters, a lot of volunteers have also signed up to take care of the multitudes of dogs, cats, snakes, horses and steers coming through these facilities, but housing remains one of the main problems.
While the efforts by these groups and organizations is enough to restore one’s faith in humanity, the truth is that it would take them a long time to find these animals a permanent home, particularly since most of the animals shelters in the area were also lost in the terrible fire.