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Fire Storm Pet Safety Tips at Ark Animals

This page is dedicated to interview questions related to the California fires and the wildfires--or firestorms. Guerrero is an expert in animal disaster preparedness and has worked animal rescue during floods, a hurricane, worked in and survived earthquakes, the "old fire" & other fires in the San Bernardinos.

Animal Expert Fire Storm & Animal Rescue Interviews

Can you give us an updated status on the recent Big Bear fire?

The Big Bear area has been put on alert, but not evacuated. Optimistic reports say the blaze will be 100% contained by day's end on March 26, 2004. 40% containment was reported at 6am on March 26, 2004, compared to 20% on March 25th at 6pm. A marine layer has moved into the valley assisting with moisture levels.

The risk of fire has escalated with the draught conditions. This spring has already been unseasonably warm. The risk of fire is not a new one however. Exactly six months ago the "Old Fire" swept through the San Bernardino Mountains damaging thousands of acres and impacting every mountain community in the area. The entire mountain was evacuated.

"I wrote an article on the local tree ordinances and state of the forest some time back. During an interview for that story, the forestry department told me we were literally sitting in a tinderbox," says author Diana L. Guerrero. Guerrero lives in the valley of Big Bear Lake, California where a recent prescribed burn got out of control threatening the local ski resorts and community.

"There is no an easy answer" she continued, "something has to be done and these burns, if handled well and if the weather cooperates, will will form a much needed fire break. It is also the opportunity to reassess the forest management efforts. If we are lucky there won't be any significant losses of life or property."

What is your experience with animal disaster rescue and preparedness?

Animal disaster preparedness and rescue relates to advance preparation and planning for disasters and actual rescue activities. The types of events that this refers to can be both natural and man induced problems such as: firestorms, chemical spills, structure collapse, train, plane or vehicle collisions, earthquakes, floods, mudslides, excessive snow loads, and other related events. I have personal experience in fire, earthquake, and snow related events and professional certifications in animal disaster preparedness and rescue.

You mention your experience and certifications. Can you give me an idea of what those are?

  • Author, Animal Disaster Preparedness for Pet Owners and Pet Professionals (Ark Animals)
  • Contributing Editor, Resources in Crisis Management in Zoos and Other Animal Care Facilities (American Association of Zoo Keepers Inc.)
  • Animals in Disasters: Awareness & Preparedness (FEMA Certification)
  • Animals in Disasters: Community Planning (FEMA Certification)
  • Disaster Rescue Team Designee (American Humane Association)
  • Animal Planet Rescue Rig® Construction Crew Member (American Humane Association)
  • Disaster Management & Planning for Animal Protection Organizations (Humane Society of the United States Certification)
  • Emergency Animal Rescue Service (United Animal Nations Certification and Area Coordinator)
  • Consultant for Community Animal Disaster Contingency Annex

What tips can you give pet owners who lost their pets during the firestorms?

This is a difficult situation for those who did not have contingency plans or were not able to get home to rescue their animals. Due to the destruction of landmarks and scents normally familiar to animals it is difficult for animals to find their way home. Many will have fled the area and some may have been picked up and taken out of the area by well-meaning rescuers. There are a few things you can do:

  1. Place posters up around your area and in public places such as pet related businesses (vets, groomers, pet stores, etc) and high traffic areas like shopping centers, gymnasiums, and alert neighbors and kids.
  2. If possible, include a photo with any announcements.
  3. Place ads in your local newspaper and radios. Most will do this free of charge. If you found an animal, you are required to do this.
  4. Contact and VISIT rescue centers, humane organizations and shelters in your area. Get help from friends and personally visit daily.
  5. Use the Internet chatrooms and popular pet rescue sites to post your announcements and ask for help.
  6. If you have a microchip or pet ID on your animal, make sure to share that information and contact those agencies providing you with those services.

How do animals react during firestorms and disasters such as these?

Every animal will react differently. During the evacuation many animals would not eat, were distracted, or agitated. Animals may be fearful and hide, others will be defensively aggressive, or clingy. Some animals will bolt or run off if given the chance.

Pet owners can chat calmly to the animal, but are encouraged to avoid reinforcing fearful behavior through petting or stroking in attempts to comfort the animal. Unlike comforting humans, these activities often escalate the problem rather than providing comfort.

Post disaster problems will include lack of appetite, skittish behavior, toileting problems (accidents), and even hair loss due to stress. Animals may lose weight, too. These are temporary problems that will resolve. If you see no change within two weeks you should contact an animal behaviorist or veterinarian for help.

How did this disaster affect you?

We were fortunate to have our community spared. At the moment I am working on setting up fundraisers using my new book to raise funds for local pet owners, pet businesses, and the humane societies assisting the fire victims.

In the past I have been able to directly assist with national agencies responsible for animal rescue. I talk about some of this in my book, What Animals Can Teach Us about Spirituality: Inspiring Lessons from Wild and Tame Creatures.

This disaster was difficult because I am an asthmatic. Due to the smoke and related complications I was unable to directly contribute in the actual rescue activities.

I evacuated and had a good plan ready. This included a rescue travel cage for my bird with food, water, and related items ready in an instant. Even through I had three areas in my evacuation plan--two of those were not options due to road and freeway closures. People need to think about options when they plan, too.

What other advice do you have for pet owners or pet rescuers?

The best advice I can give is for people to be prepared for the unexpected and to learn from their experiences--or those of others. You can never plan for every little detail and so you have to adapt and be flexible.

Unless you have experienced a disaster, you can't fathom the depth of impact. The impact will remain on the victims and communities for some time after the crisis has passed.

My animal disaster booklet has sections on where to get help, how to prepare your community, and pre and post disaster tips. Here are a few:

  • Have emergency pet kits and documents in an area easily accessible in the event of an evacuation.
  • Start or join a network of pet owners in your area for animal rescue and housing.
  • Have at least two sites you can evacuate to.

The outpouring of concern to those in the California firestorms and wildfires of southern California has been phenomenal. People are stepping up to the plate to help friends, neighbors, and strangers. We are immensely grateful to firefighters, law enforcement, and the many volunteers for their help, dedication, and kindness.

Animals that were lost or separated from owners during any disaster should visit a veterinarian for a checkup. Animals may suffer from smoke inhalation, burns, or exposure to disease or parasites.

Big Bear Fire, California

March 25, 2004 Fire in Big Bear, California

March 25, 2004 Big Bear Fire, California

Fire Evacuations at Big Bear Ski Resorts, March 2004

The Sun, March 26, 2004


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