If it’s not hurricanes, it’s wildfires . . .
As of Thursday, 21,000 firefighters were battling 137 active wildfires in various stages of containment across 2,200 square miles in nine western states, according to the National Interagency Fire Center in Boise, Idaho.
Veterinary practices in the affected areas have gotten used to it. It’s been an unusually active season for wildfires, and some have been burning since last spring.
Unlike practices that had to face recent hurricanes in Florida and Texas, evacuation hasn’t generally been a concern for those in the northwest. They’re more worried about smoke and ash.
It kept a lot of dogs indoors in Missoula, Montana. “It’s been extremely smoky outside,” says Jennifer Ainxworth, a receptionist at AAHA-accredited Pruyn Veterinary Hospital in Missoula. “So we weren’t utilizing our outside dog runs. But we are now, because smoke has lifted for a while.” Other than the smoke, she says they’re not too worried about the wildfires. “We’re kind of right in the middle of the town, so I doubt they’d get close.”
“Yeah, it’s been pretty smoky the last few weeks,” says Rayh Prouty, a receptionist at AAHA-accredited Alpine Veterinary Clinic in Bend, Oregon. She says the nearest wildfires are about 22 miles away, “so we really haven’t been affected by it.” Still, that doesn’t mean they’re not going stir crazy. “We’ve all been pretty cooped up for the last couple of weeks. We and our dogs are all pretty tired of being inside.”
Brittany Nelson, receptionist at AAHA-accredited Riverside Park Veterinary Clinic in Grants Pass, Oregon, says the nearest serious wildfires are about 30 miles to the southwest and they’re definitely seeing the effects. “When you wake up in the morning you see ash on the car, but it’s not too bad.” Even better news, none of Riverside’s clients has brought in any pets with wildfire-related problems.
VCA Southeast Area Animal Hospital in Portland is the closest emergency clinic to the Eagle Creek Fire, which has been burning for a week and a half on the Oregon side of the scenic Columbia River Gorge, about thirty miles east. As of Thursday morning the fire was 17% contained and spreading east along the I-84 corridor, which has been closed for more than a week due to fire danger.
Chris Bonnell, DVM, and VCA Southeast’s Medical Director, says they haven’t seen any cases related to smoke inhalation. In fact, she says they’ve been less busy than usual during the wildfires. The clinic usually sees some cases involving trauma with dogs during the summer holiday season because the Columbia River Gorge is a popular tourist destination, and people like to bring their dogs on vacation, but “Now we’re seeing less, because the dogs aren’t there. One of my colleagues said, ‘maybe it’s better for the dogs.’”
She says the air quality was pretty bad in Portland for a while but the air quality cleared up significantly by last weekend. “I’ve been out walking and running and I’ve been fine.”
Like all VCA hospitals in Oregon, VCA Southeast is offering free boarding for small animals including dogs, cats and birds, to families affected by the wildfires. Barbara Stewart, Southeast’s hospital manager, says space is limited at their particular facility, but, “If they come in, we’ll definitely take care of them.” If the animals are missing any vaccinations, Southeast will waive the exam fee and administer the vaccination for $23. That’s half price.
“Someone came in here and said another hospital quoted them $100 per dog for four dogs.” Steward was appalled. “They were like, ‘Excuse me, we just got evacuated from our house. We don’t have a hundred dollars a dog.’ We were able to help.”
Things have been a little more lively in Troutdale, a community on the eastern edge of Portland and closer to the Eagle Creek fire. Jay Levitre, Development and Communications Coordinator for AAHA-accredited Multnomah County Animal Services in Troutdale, Oregon, says the shelter got lucky—the shelter itself didn’t have to evacuate, but they’re assisting with the evacuation of livestock affected by the fire, and so far they’ve relocated about 500 farm animals, taking in about 25 themselves. “We boarded six goats, a handful of cats, a bunch of dogs, a couple of rats.”
“We haven’t seen a lot of need from pets,” he says, although they have been providing emergency boarding for the pets of people evacuated from their homes. “It’s a pretty self-sufficient community. They take care of their own.”
Meanwhile, Beritt Lynch, an AAHA practice consultant for the Northwest, experienced the Eagle Creek Fire up close and personal.
Lynch lives in Stevenson, Washington, directly across the Columbia River from the Eagle Creek Fire. For a while it looked like she was going to have to evacuate her home when the fire jumped the river and started another fire on the Washington State side. Lynch was literally in the middle of things. “At the same time I had two other fires coming from behind unrelated to that one.” After riding out a few tense days along with her fellow Stevenson residents, she got the all clear and was told she could stay, but says, “It’s still very smoky there.”
Although Lynch’s regular beat is the northwest, she works all over, and once she knew her house was safe, she more or less evacuated herself—she’s currently traveling in Arizona on AAHA business, well out of the fire zone. “I’m on the road,” she laughs. “I ran away from the fire.”
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