Animal Evacuation During a Wildfire: How to Plan and Where to Go

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workers stand outside truck with rear doors open and ramp down as they lead a tiny donkey towards the vehicle - the air is orange-hued due to wildfire smoke
Volunteers with the Napa Animal Response Team walk two miniature donkeys onto a trailer after they survived devastation from the Glass Fire on Sept. 28, 2020. (Samuel Corum/AFP via Getty Images)

When wildfires force the evacuation of thousands of people, many have to make the difficult decision of whether to bring their animals or leave them behind. And when fire spreads rapidly, some residents don’t have the time or means to evacuate pets and livestock.

In the North Bay, that’s where local organizations like the Napa Community Animal Response Team (CART) step in. CART volunteers travel behind evacuation lines to rescue pets and livestock, coordinate donations of feed and supplies and care for animals staying in shelters.

Dr. Claudia Sonder, president of Napa CART and an equine veterinarian, told KQED during the Glass Fire in 2020 that planning ahead is crucial.

“We talk about humans being prepared for disaster, but we don't often talk about preparing your animals for disaster," she said.

Preparing for evacuation

Here are a few things you can do to prepare your animals before evacuating:

  • Make an evacuation plan for livestock and practice evacuating more than once ahead of time.
  • Fill out a luggage tag with the animal's name and your contact information; the tag can be braided into a horse's mane and attached to a horn or ear tag.
  • Prepare a go-bag for your pets and livestock with: food for at least three days; leashes, halters or harnesses; medication; your vet’s contact information; and instructions for feeding and any medical needs.
  • Microchip your pets, and make sure the microchip contact information is up to date.
  • Be sure to have photos of your animals for identification purposes.

Find more information from the ASPCA here.

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Moving horses and other farm or ranch animals out of danger requires a large truck and stock trailer. During fire weather warnings, hitch your trailer to the truck and keep it pointed toward the road to save time during evacuation. If you don’t have the equipment to move large animals, CART coordinates volunteers with trailers who will haul animals to shelters.

Sonder says it’s also important to make sure your animals practice evacuating so that they’ll get into the trailer when the time comes.

“We have a beautiful 34-year-old horse down in the shelter, Big Jim. He needed a ride and just gracefully got right on that trailer. At that same location, we had two other horses that we could not load," Sonder said.

If evacuating with your animals isn't an option

When the 2020 Glass Fire broke out, the CART team evacuated dozens of horses, cows, sheep, goats and other farm animals. They also moved 150 cats out of a rescue facility.

If animals cannot be evacuated, here are a few things you can do to keep them safe:

  • Remove blankets, collars, halters and fly masks.
  • Give them as much space as possible, without allowing access to any roads.
  • Fill all water bowls or troughs.
  • Turn on any sprinkler so the animal has a moist refuge.
  • If possible, give the animal access to an irrigated orchard, lawn or vineyard.

Sonder said animals are smart, and that if they're able to, they will go to safety. “The majority of animals that I find in the field after a fire that are deceased are the ones that couldn't get away from the fire directly," she said.

Goats that escaped their enclosure are rounded up as the Glass Fire burns nearby on Sept. 27, 2020, in St. Helena, California. (Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

Where to evacuate your animals

Below is a list of organizations and locations in the North Bay that have assisted with animal evacuations during previous wildfires. Check if a location is open and accepting animals before you go:

Large animal evacuations

  • For assistance with livestock evacuations, call Sonoma County CART at (707) 861-0699 or Napa County CART at (707) 732-1555.
  • The Sonoma County Fairgrounds has accepted large animals in the past; double-check they're open and accepting animals.
  • Horses have been accepted at Sonoma Horse Park, at 7600 Lakeville Highway in Petaluma; double-check they're open and accepting animals.
  • Livestock and chickens have been accepted at the Petaluma Fairgrounds, at 100 Fairgrounds Drive in Petaluma; double-check they're open and accepting animals.

Small animal evacuations

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Lost pets and livestock

If you find an animal that is lost, it's best to keep it in the county where it was found, if possible, for the best chance for reunification with its owner.

In the North Bay, you can report found pets or search for lost ones through the County of Sonoma database. The county also has a map of lost dogs and cats.

Local shelter and community Facebook pages have become hubs for reuniting owners with lost pets:

This story has been updated.