As California Burns, What’s Happening To The Animals?

The devastation in California is very real and very scary: a total of 12 fires are burning in the state, as of September 16. The largest of these is the Rough Fire, which has destroyed 139,000 acres near Sequoia and King’s Canyon National Parks. More than 3,700 firefighters are battling this blaze, which is 40 percent contained, according to the US Forest Service. The biggest fear in this scarcely populated area is not people, but landscape: the flames are currently threatening California’s famed Sequoia trees, with firefighters scrambling to protect them.

The Valley Fire, located roughly 50 miles west of Sacramento, the state’s capital, has so far consumed 70,000 acres and is about 30 percent contained; at least 585 homes have been destroyed, while 9,000 remain threatened.

The Butte fire, raging about 65 miles southeast of Sacramento, has destroyed 71,780 acres and is 45 percent contained. So far 233 homes have gone up in flames in this Gold Rush area of the state, and another 6,400 are still threatened.

The good news is that firefighters are slowly gaining ground on these fires, and that weather conditions in Northern California are changing. Some areas have seen a few drops of rain, and more could be on the way.

Where Are The Animals?

But with the speed that these two fires have spread, many residents have had almost no time to flee, and have often had to leave their pets behind. Thousands of animals are at risk.

For the Valley fire area, officials have warned that with downed power lines, burned-out cars, and other hazards, they can’t allow people whose homes may still be intact to move back in yet. However, they are allowing residents to return to their homes for 15 minutes to feed and give water to the animals.

Here are some amazing photos, courtesy of The Guardian, of humans reuniting with their animals.

In many cases, people had no choice but to open the gates and let their farm animals run free, in hopes they would be able to escape the flames.

Locating these animals will be an extremely difficult task. My own house burned down three years ago, and I have never seen my cat, Sargent Pepper, race so fast at the first sight of flames. I have no idea where she hid, but I was lucky: she crept back the next day, when only the charred remains of our home still stood.

But that was only one house, not an entire town.

Former Care2 engineer Marcel Cary built a lost-and-found website for victims of the Valley Fire who have lost their

Caring For Butte Fire Animals

At the Calaveras County Animal Services shelter in San Andreas, where the Butte fire has been raging, more than 400 pets, mostly cats and dogs, were being cared for, some at the shelter and others by groups working with the shelter.

Here’s a typical story, from the Calaveras Enterprise:

“In San Andreas, Kitty McWilliams, 70, and her housemate were ordered to evacuate. They took with them their 15 cats and rabbit. The entire family, both animals and humans, is living at the county Animal Shelter, where McWilliams is serving as a volunteer.

‘We have no place else to go,’ she said.

She took a brief break from cleaning cat cages on Sunday afternoon to cuddle Ebby, her black rabbit.”

Meanwhile, at the San Andreas fairgrounds, Calaveras County Supervisor Debbie Ponten said that roughly 350 horses, goats and other livestock were being housed.

Joe Whittle, a livestock volunteer, explains that they have started a database, called, to document each animal and paint a temporary identifying number on each animal, so that owners can go to the site and see if their animal is there.

Caring For Valley Fire Animals

On September 15, the Petaluma Animal Services in Sonoma County announced on Facebook that it was “briefing a strike team of expert animal handlers to go into burned out areas and handle injured, sick, or fearful/hysterical animals — and get them out of there safely.” The post continued, “Working with law enforcement and other non-profits we are using our expertise and equipment to deal with what is certain to be an astonishing misery. We’ve learned overnight that there are dogs and cats everywhere, livestock-horses, too.”

Dr. John Madigan is one of those expert animal handlers. A professor at the University of California Davis School of Veterinary Medicine, Madigan has been out driving through burned-out communities in northern California searching for any animals left behind by desperate residents who fled in terror.

Over the past several decades, Madigan has worked with hundreds of animals in emergency situations, and on September 15 he went with UC Davis veterinarian Patricia Andrade to Hidden Valley Lake, to care for a horse that had been injured. Then the pair continued their rounds, checking on animals who had been reported stranded.

The situation is tragic, but numerous organizations are providing help. In addition to going into fire-ravaged areas to look for lost animals, they are keeping hundreds of pets fed and hydrated, as well as comfortable. There has been an amazing response: over the September 12 – 13 weekend, requests were made for donations such as food, collars, leashes, and other supplies. By the evening of September 13, the animal rescuers announced that they had already received enough donations.

Hundreds of animal lovers have opened their homes to animals with nowhere to go.

It is beautiful to see the huge numbers of people rallying to help animals in need after these devastating fires.

If you would like to learn more, Petaluma Animal Services, Sonoma Humane Society, Wine Country Animal Lovers, Compassion Without Borders, the Moose Lodge and the Jameson Rescue Ranch are just a few of the groups posting regular updates to Facebook. There you can learn what supplies are currently needed and how to help them protect pets affected by the fire.

Please share websites like Valley Fire Lost & Found Animals that help reconnect pets with their families.



Siyus Copetallus
Siyus Copetallus3 years ago

Thank you for sharing.

Jennifer H.
Jennifer H3 years ago

These fires are devastating. You never know if the animals made a run for it before the people could catch them, too. I can't imagine having to live through it.

Gloria H.
Gloria H3 years ago

I'd take my cat in a pillow case. God help anyone trying to stop me from bailing out with my furbaby.
I heard some people put their cell # on the horses in case the horses get loose.

Ruth C.
Ruth C3 years ago

The poor animals always suffer the most!

Amy Thompson
Amy Thompson3 years ago

I have wondered about the pets and wild animals both since these horrible fires began raging and spreading. I'm glad to know some have been spared and are receiving care. This situation is so tragic and frighteningly large in scope:'(

Julia Cabrera-Woscek

More than ever this community needs support over this tragedy.

Jane R.
Jane R3 years ago

Thank you to all helping care for these animals, and to everyone who donated supplies or money. I don't know how anyone could leave their pet behind when evacuating. Their life is more important than anything else you take with you.

Yola S.
.3 years ago

So tragic and sad.That first photo of Hooper and Toby had me in tears.I could never leave my pets even if my life was in danger !

Julie D.
Julie D3 years ago

I always think about and worry about all the wildlife that is killed or injured in these awful fires, as well as the domestic animals. It is so sad. We have encroached on so much of their habitat as it is, now there will be even less for them after the fires are over. All life is precious, human, animal, plant life, and the loss of any of it is very sad.

Tracy Riley
Tracy Riley3 years ago

I agree with @Fred I. What happens to the wildlife who is helping them? Although I would like to say to those that help save ANY animal, domestic or wild, you are true heroes in my eyes, thank you.