California Wildfires Threaten Wild Animals, Horse Population


Wildfires in California. Credit: Wikimedia Commons.

As they spread across California, wildfires are greatly impacting not just the people and homes in their path, but the lives of animals both wild and domestic.

On Tuesday December 5, 29 horses died as a result of the ongoing Creek Fire. The Creek Fire so far has burned dozens of homes and more than 15,600 acres in Sylmar.

Sylmar barn owner Virginia Padilla raced to try and save more than sixty horses from the disaster, CNN reported. She and her brother were only able to save some before the barn’s roof collapsed.

Horses who survived suffered severe burns. One of Padilla’s horses, Reuben, had burns covering over 65% of his body. Another had to be euthanized upon arrival at the vet clinic, and another will need treatment for months.

At the Lilac Fire in Bonsall, just north east of San Diego, ranchers attempted to rescue more than 500 horses from the San Luis Rey training center.

Shannon Clark drove to the area to help evacuate the animals. She told CNN affiliate KSWB that “leaving one behind is like leaving a child behind… you just can’t do it.”

Temporary shelters are being made out of college facilities, county fairgrounds, and even sports facilities for hundreds of pets.

The Willistonian spoke via email to San Diego-based reporter Sebastian Montes, who visited the Del Mars Fairgrounds, currently being used as one of the makeshift facilities. The Fairgrounds is in Del Mar, CA, about 20 miles north of downtown San Diego.

“Horses started arriving last Thursday night, December 7, and peaked at around 850 horses on Friday, December 8,” Montes told The Willistonian. “By December 12, all but about 100 of the horses had been picked up by their owners or taken to other horse farms. As of December 13, there are probably about 20 horses that haven’t been claimed.” Montes added that there are hundreds of volunteers living in campers to help take care of the animals.

So what about the wild animals?

This question surfaced after a video of a man pulled over on the highway saves a wild rabbit from the flames on December 6. While the majority of responses to this video were of gratitude and praise, sources highly encourage people not to attempt to rescue these animals.

Oskar Lee ’18, a resident of Los Angeles, spoke about his concerns for the wildlife. “I’m worried about all of the animals that have to run and have nowhere to go other than the cities or streets.”

Wildlife spokesperson Peter Tira advises citizens to leave the animals alone. He told CNN how these animals have the ability to adapt and survive. “Fire is something animals have to deal with constantly,” he adds.

Rescuing wild animals is highly dangerous and could even do the animal more harm than good, putting them off their path while also potentially confusing and traumatizing them. Rescuing domestic animals however is encouraged so long as a person is not putting themselves in danger, otherwise wait until first responders can take over.

Wildfires began spreading across California on December 4. These fires include the Thomas Fire, the Lilac Fire, the Liberty Fire, the Creek Fire, the Rye fire, and the Skirball fire. Over 190,000 people have been evacuated from their homes.

The fires have been fueled by strong Santa Ana winds and extremely dry conditions throughout California. As of press time, these fires have destroyed more than 1,000 structures.

Oskar Lee ’18 said that despite the regularity of fires in Southern California, these are particularly worrisome.

“People’s houses that they’ve invested their lives into have been burned down and there is nothing they can do about it,” Oskar said. “I know three friends who have had to evacuate.” While he is worried about the areas still being impacted, Oskar says that people in California are used to wildfires. However, this one is more concerning because of how quickly it spread over such a large area.