DENVER (Associated Press) – When Lisa Young evacuated her home as a fast-moving wildfire raged in Colorado, it seemed like firefighters would be able to stop what then appeared to be just a grass fire in a field behind her home. She just took her bag, turned off her slow cooker and TV and made sure her two cats had enough food and water to drink, thinking she would be home soon.
Later that night while she was staying with her relatives, she saw pictures of her house outside Denver burning on TV, her driveway identifiable by her father’s fire in an old Corvette. Her home was one of about 1,000 homes destroyed in the fire, leading her to fear that her two Calico cats, Joy and Noel, her two 5-year-old sisters, had died in the fire.
Most people were safely evacuated from the bushfires pushed by 105 mph (169 km/h) winds, but Young was among dozens of homeowners who had died, had pets searched for, or still didn’t know the fate of their dogs or cats.
If the windows in her house were shattered by the heat of the fire, she said, there was a chance that the cats, who were as feral as kittens and could only be carried if they were willing, had escaped.
“There is this little hope,” said Young, relieved by the daily visits to take care of her horse, which was safe from the flames in his boarding stable.
There were some happy endings. Neighbors of a police officer who was at work when the fire broke out were able to rescue his family’s three dogs before his family home was destroyed. Another man who was away at work when his house burned down was reunited with his cat, whose face was on fire, after someone heard it meowing outside an escaped house nearby.
The Humane Society of Boulder Valley has collected more than 25 pets with their owners since the fire ravaged homes in Louisville and Superior communities, including a dog that spent two days outside and has some burning paws, group CEO Jan McHugh Smith said. . She added that the organization also takes care of about 12 animals, including a tortoise and a cockatiel, at her shelter and cannot live with their owners in temporary living conditions.
Like Young, many pet owners have posted messages and photos of their pets to a Facebook page set up to help find lost animals. Others trying to help have also posted photos of pets, especially cats, that have been seen in their areas and have offered to take pets that can’t live with their owners in temporary housing.
Page organizer, Katie Albright, a missing area animal recovery specialist who now lives in Oregon, is careful not to draw any conclusions about the possibility that the pet will continue to be found after the fire. While working to retrieve the pets after the Holiday Farm fire in Oregon in 2020, some were skeptical about finding any, she said, it wasn’t until a year later that the last trapped cat was caught there.
However, people are very eager to help even though they may end up harming other animals not affected by the fire, Albright said.
While dogs are known to roam away from disasters, cats tend to stay about a mile from home. Despite this, there have been some reports of people finding cats in communities outside the fire zone and taking them to their local shelters, thinking they have lost cats from the fire zone. However, they are more likely to be outdoorsy cats living in those areas, and unless they have a microchip to identify their owners, they will likely never return home, she said.
Some owners also want to set up traps to capture lost cats, but Albright instead recommends first putting some food in an area with some type of cover, such as vegetation, and using a trail cam – the kind nice hunters use to scout wildlife areas – to check on the animals, If any, that you may be in the area before you decide to set up a trap to avoid catching a not-missing cat or wild animal. Any traps should also be checked at least every hour to avoid a panicked animal, she said.
She said people returning to newly reopened neighborhoods can also walk around and check places where cats tend to hide such as canals, vehicles and garages, while keeping an eye on infected cats in particular.
Code 3 Associates, an organization hired by authorities to rescue animals after natural disasters across the United States and headquartered in Longmont, Colorado, not far from the fire, set up traps in hopes of catching lost cats near neighborhoods that were burned but they did. She didn’t pick up on anything, said Jenny Boswell, the group’s director of education and partnerships. This is in addition to a community that usually takes pains to report stray animals to the authorities, causing them to believe there aren’t many missing animals out there and that the fire was a “communal sacrifice event” for the pets who were in the houses that burned.
“I think they may have died in those residences and those few who got out and came back have been located,” she said.
While people do have time to pack some of their belongings and pets in slow-moving disasters like hurricanes or floods and even wildfires more common in mountainous regions, many people who weren’t home when the Colorado fire started didn’t have a chance to go home to their rescue. Their pets said.
Young said she won’t shut down until she can go home and find any leftovers from her cats.
For now, her visits to Foxy, a 20-year-old horse, give her a little bit of normalcy and relief in her upside-down life. The horse is in tune with her, she said, that he is nervous because he feels how nervous she is now.
On a Wednesday visit, she gave him an apple, a nutritional supplement, a straw, a brush, a vibrating back massage, a booth cleaning, and finally patted his back.
“I can still hug him. I can still kiss and love him.” Young said with a laugh.