Colorado fires cause mass evacuations

Few animals seriously hurt by blazes
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CSU students treat Ellie, a donkey
Colorado State University veterinary students Darcy Moreland and Oneal Peters treat Ellie, a donkey credited with leading her companions to safety and eventual evacuation from the High Park Fire. (Courtesy of Colorado State University CVM&BS)

A handful of major wildfires affected more than 150,000 acres in the Colorado Rockies this summer, causing the evacuation of thousands of people and their pets as well as livestock and horses. Five of the largest fires were 90 percent or better contained by July 10.

The largest conflagration occurred in High Park, approximately 15 miles west of Fort Collins, and burned about 87,000 acres between June 9 and July 1.

Two veterinarians, one veterinary technician, and four fourth-year students from Colorado State University’s Veterinary Teaching Hospital spent a week caring for several hundred animals displaced by the High Park Fire at no charge.

The team put in 11-hour days checking on animals that came into The Ranch at Loveland, the designated evacuation area for large animals that were displaced by the fire. The volunteers had examined about 150 horses, 150 alpacas and llamas, and a smaller number of donkeys, sheep, goats, and calves as of June 13.

“We’re doing physical exams, health checks, and treating anything we’ve seen that needed attention,” said Dr. Brian Miller, director of equine field services at the CSU College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences.

“At this point, (we’ve encountered) just some minor smoke inhalation and dehydration from lack of water, some abrasions and a few cuts.”

In fact, most animals did not require extensive treatment, said Deborah L. Foote, director of PetAid Colorado’s Disaster Services (formerly the Colorado Veterinary Medical Foundation’s Animal Emergency Management Program). She reported that a hamster in Colorado Springs died, as did a pregnant cow in Larimer County as a result of bloating. Her calf survived.

During the High Park Fire, the not-for-profit PetAid Disaster Services provided support to the Larimer Humane Society to ensure that needs were being met at the large animal shelter at The Ranch and the small animal shelters at Larimer Humane and other local veterinary clinics.

More than 400 large animals were housed at The Ranch and approximately 300 small animals were sheltered at the Larimer Humane Society and partner veterinary clinics. PetAid Disaster Services volunteers provided four days of support in the Larimer County Emergency Operations Center, fielding inquiries from the public regarding sheltering and evacuation options. Volunteers organized the pet supply component of the donations center.

Meanwhile, the Waldo Canyon fire—the most destructive in Colorado history in terms of property loss, with 346 homes lost—started June 23 and ended July 6. It struck three miles west of Colorado Springs and scorched about 18,247 acres. Evacuations of residents peaked June 27 at 32,000, according to the Colorado Office of Emergency Management.

El Paso County emergency responders put together a coordinated effort to move horses and livestock for those who needed assistance. About 150 horses were taken to the Norris-Penrose Equestrian Center in Colorado Springs and another 150 or so were moved to the Teller County Fairgrounds in Cripple Creek.

“Really, there was very minimal long-term impact on horses and backyard livestock, because the areas most damaged were not heavy equine areas,” Foote said.

The Humane Society of the Pikes Peak Region, the city of Colorado Springs, and the Teller County Regional Animal Shelter coordinated various shelter operations for small animals affected by the Waldo Canyon Fire. PetAid Disaster Services provided sheltering support and veterinary support through its Colorado Veterinary Medical Reserve Corps.

In all, about 25 volunteers with PetAid went into action during the fires. Foote credited the website with aiding the response efforts by acting as a clearinghouse of information for people interested in volunteering their skills, goods, or money.

“In Larimer County, we directed folks who offered barns or stable space for displaced animals to, and then an individual would funnel offers to a point person to work with families to rehome their animals,” Foote said.

She did note one troubling trend during the emergency response, however. A dozen or so pet owners, rather than stay in a shelter while their pets slept in a separate air-conditioned animal shelter, opted to sleep in their cars with their animals—possibly resulting in the death of one animal from heatstroke.

Foote also saw throughout Colorado many well-meaning people, including veterinary clinic staff, open their doors to shelter animals. Yet, because they were not part of the coordinated response, they assumed liability for animals in their care.

“Colorado has strong laws in place protecting volunteers from liability during emergency response, but the volunteers must be affiliated, trained, and recognized in the local emergency operations plan,” Foote said.

She continued, “We ask veterinary professionals to become affiliated (with official response organizations) before an event happens. PetAid’s volunteers belong to official units of the Medical Reserve Corps, which requires a certain amount of related education, background check, and credential check. When people call me during a fire to offer their services, they get frustrated when I say I can’t use them now. But I always ask them to join our unit so we can use them on future deployments.”

People sometimes arrive with large-scale pet food donations, too, she said, which often are not needed and become a problem, as they have to be stored or redistributed.

“It’s really hard to convince people (that) we will ask when we need help. They have to trust the processes put in place so they are an asset to the response,” Foote said.

The American Veterinary Medical Foundation has given PetAid more than $60,000 in state grants over the past few years and sponsored a number of training grants. The AVMF also invites applications for its disaster-related grants. Qualified individuals can receive up to $5,000 reimbursement for veterinary care provided for the medical care of animal victims or up to $2,000 for the restoration of veterinary infrastructure affected by the Colorado wildfires or other disasters. Applications and more information are available at Applicants have up to 9 months from the time of the disaster to apply.

More information about PetAid Colorado’s Disaster Services can be found at