Veterinarians, animal control officers, and animal protection organizations have helped recover and treat hundreds of animals affected by wildfires near Austin, Texas.
The Bastrop County fires started in early September and had affected more than 34,000 acres, destroyed more than 1,500 homes, and killed two people by Sept. 27, when the fire was 95 percent contained, according to the Texas Forest Service. A statement from the Texas Animal Health Commission indicates the agency didn't yet have tallies of the numbers of animals killed by the fires or removed from the areas affected by fires.
"Many of these animals were boarded at emergency shelters run by the community, local veterinary clinics, and local sale barns, so trying to keep track of numbers with fires in multiple parts of the state was a moving target," TAHC officials said.
Dr. Wesley T. Bissett, director of Texas A&M University's Veterinary Emergency Team, said his 22-member team treated about 150 injured animals rescued from the scorched area in Bastrop County. Most were dogs and cats with burns—typically on the pads of their feet. The team also treated animals for respiratory problems related to smoke inhalation and dehydration. Operating from two trailers, the Texas A&M team moved with the search-and-rescue teams, always staying within a few miles of them.
"Virtually everything that we saw that had respiratory issues also had burns, and they were dehydrated as well," Dr. Bissett said.
The team included eight veterinarians, four veterinary technicians, one administrator, and nine veterinary students, said Angela G. Clendenin, a spokeswoman for the college.
The Texas A&M team also cared for six search-and-rescue dogs, which experienced wear on their pads from walking on hot, rough ground and needed treatment to prevent harm from dehydration, Dr. Bissett said. Other than treating some minor burns, the Texas A&M team provided only preventive care for those dogs, he said.
Dr. Bissett said animals that received care by the university team were moved to emergency shelters.
Lisa Starr, spokeswoman for the Austin Humane Society, said her organization took in animals that needed additional care following examination and initial care by the Texas A&M team. The humane society sheltered about 170 animals, about 105 of which were recovered from areas affected by the fires. With the shelter run by Bastrop County's animal control department, the groups together housed about 400 animals, she said.
Dr. Katie Luke with the Austin Humane Society, Dr. Shawn Ashley with the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals of Texas, and staff members from area shelters provided care for animals and helped bring in and reunite animals with owners. The Austin Humane Society also paid local veterinarians to treat some animals with severe injuries.
About even numbers of dogs and cats accounted for most of the animals in the Austin shelter, and the rest included three pigs, two rabbits, two guinea fowl, and a ferret.
Chris Copeland, executive director of the Texas VMA, said his organization and the Texas Veterinary Medical Foundation brought supplies to clinics near the Bastrop County fires. Those clinics have been taking in animals from people evacuated because of the fires and some stray animals. He said that staff from at least one clinic checked pastures in the area for animals injured by the fires.
Although Copeland wasn't aware of damage to clinics, he said at least one was in an evacuation zone. Animals held at the facility had to be distributed among other clinics in the area.
Some of the clinics aided by the TVMA and TVMF have been treating animals injured by the fires, Copeland said.
In addition to the Bastrop County fire, Copeland noted that another large fire had moved through Waller County near Houston. By late September, temperatures were still topping 100°F in Austin and dry conditions continued, providing fuel for new fires.
"With the conditions, we just hear about more and more fires popping up all over the state, and the weather forecasts don't look very encouraging for either the near term or for the long term," Copeland said. "We're supposed to be hotter and dryer than normal for this next several months, which is certainly of concern to us."
As of late September, the Texas Forest Service was receiving reports of new fires affecting thousands of acres daily. Those fires and the Bastrop fires were not included in the tally of 18,500 wildfires that had burned 3.5 million acres in Texas from January to August, according to figures from the office of Texas Gov. Rick Perry.