It is most people’s worst nightmare – a rampant fire is coming towards you. What do you do? What or whom do you save? Here are some ways that you can prepare for that situation to protect your pets and assuage some of your fears.
How do wildfires start?
It really does not take much to start a wildfire, especially if the weather has been dry and hot for several weeks at a time. A lit cigarette being tossed in the grass, a campfire left unattended, or even a lightning strike can kick-start a raging wildfire that will be impossible to control.
No matter what causes the wildfire, you might only have a few minutes’ notice before you have to evacuate your home. If you have not made emergency preparations, you might have to leave your precious pets behind to fend for themselves. To avoid this possibility, take a few steps to prepare yourself, your pets, and your home for a wildfire or other disaster.
How to Keep Your Pet Safe during a Wildfire
Register for updates – A few hours or even a few minutes can make all the difference with wildfires, so it is a good idea to keep abreast of all developments, especially in summer. If your area has a service called "Reverse 911" available, sign up for it – you will get a call or text from emergency officials if your property lies within an evacuation area. Always pay attention to news and weather forecasts so you know when the risk of a wildfire is high.
Prepare wildfire supply kits - Well in advance of a wildfire, you should make sure you have emergency supply kits ready to go. Ideally, you would have three kits – one in your car, one near the back door and one near the front door – so that each is easily accessible when you grab your pets and leave. Include in your emergency supply kit several days’ worth of food and water for both you and your pet, as well as any medications you need. Stock the kit with first aid supplies, an extra leash and collar, a pet blanket or bed, and anything else your pet might need when he is away from home.
Keep an eye on your pet's health – Remember that even if you and your pets escape the fire, the smoke is easily dispersed and can affect the quality of air for miles around. Wildfire smoke can damage your pets' eyes and cause respiratory issues. Get them to a veterinarian if you notice your pets coughing or wheezing after a wildfire, or if their eyes are bloodshot or swollen.
Develop a family evacuation plan – Talk about safe ways to exit the house and select a meet-up point where you will all meet if you get separated during an evacuation. If you have multiple pets in your home, assign one pet to each family member so they know whom they are responsible for if you have to leave the house in a hurry. Put one person in charge of grabbing the wildfire supply kit and run a few mock evacuations to make sure everyone knows what to do.
Practice with your pets – See how fast you can get your pets leashed and into the car, or into their crates, but try to avoid making them too excited or anxious. Remember that in a real evacuation, they will be able to read your mood, so it is important you remain calm. A few practice rounds will give you the confidence that everyone will be able to follow the plan in a real wildfire situation. Always reward your pets for good behavior and they will be incentivized to play along!
Communicate with your neighbors – Make a deal with one of them to be a backup buddy for each other's pets. If you are not home when the fire strikes, you will still have someone looking out for your pets and vice versa. Make sure your pets are familiar with the person you choose so they do not hide from them, making the rescue process more difficult and dangerous.
ID all your pets – You may not want to even consider the possibility that any of your pets may get lost or separated from you during a wildfire evacuation, but it is better to prepare for that possibility than to simply hope it never happens. For this reason, make sure that your pets have been microchipped and that they each have a collar or ID tag so that they can be returned to you or easily identified in a shelter.
Don't take risks – At the first hint of danger you should get your family and your pets out safely – leave before an evacuation becomes mandatory, because if you wait too long, you might be asked to leave your pets behind. When you leave, make sure you take your wildfire supply kit with you and dress appropriately for safety.
You never know when an emergency might arise, but there are simple things you can do to prepare for them. Being prepared now will ensure the safety and well-being of both your family and your pets in the future. Get more tips on developing a disaster plan and packing an emergency supply kit in our article on disaster preparation for pets.