Wildfire Prep Week: Protecting your animals from fire


HAMILTON, Mont. - As wildfire season moves into higher gear in Montana, don't forget your animals are at risk of fire danger too.

Ethyl Keel was the manager of the local animal shelter in 2000, when wildland fires ripped through the Bitterroot.

Keel tells NBC Montana the shelter took in 200 to 300 pets that year. It was, she said, an education.

"If you've got a fire coming and you have to leave your home," said Keel, "you want to be able to grab those animals, get them in your carrier, and get to the car, and go."

Keel's mantra is to prepare for your pet's possible evacuation. Make sure somebody can take care of them if you're not around. Have proper identification, even a photo, meds and medical records, contained food, stored drinking water and carriers.

"You pack your dog's suitcase," laughed Keel, "and don't forget the dog on the way out."

Larger animals may be harder to gather.

"Ready Set Go" is a brochure from the Montana Fire Chiefs Association. It recommends unlocking and opening gates so livestock can escape flames and allow firefighters access, closing barn doors so animals won't run back into a building that may be on fire, shutting off gas supply and propane tanks, hooking up stock trailers and loading your animals to a safer location.

Rancher Roberta Gearhart said in an effort to avoid stress on the animals, transporting her family's livestock would be a last resort.

"We do have a livestock trailer," said Gearhart, "we could load some up, but to get them out quickly would be to take them right out the front gate to a safe location."

The Gearharts, their ranch and livestock survived the fires of 2000. Gearhart says they left their animals in the field that year, keeping close watch on them and they did OK.

But if the fire comes too close, some livestock owners might not have that option, especially if they live in more heavily timbered areas and their animals are on upper range ground.

The Gearharts fire proof their ranch as much as possible. In this heat, there's no open burning at all. No smoking signs are posted on the barns.

They would also follow another recommended action plan if there was a fire, by moving farm equipment away from all outbuildings and residences.

And finally, the ranch is kept as moist as possible with irrigation.

There's lots more information on protecting animals from wildfire, from the Governor's office and the American Red Cross of Montana.

Anna Fernandez-Gevaert, from the Red Cross, told us that if homeowners "step up to protect their own property" they will be better off if they do face evacuation.

She also said other tips for pet owners include putting pets in a room where owners can find them quickly, and to prepare ahead of time by finding pet-friendly hotels.