Increasingly, wildfires around the globe wipe out thousands or forested ecosystems, burn structures and cause millions in damages every year.
Often people have to evacuate their homes with only enough time to grab a few precious belongings, but animals don’t have that option and most simply perish if they can’t fly away or run fast enough to a lake, river or any kind of safe refuge.
A 6-month-old black bear cub caught the nation’s attention last week when he stumbled up the driveway of Steve Love’s home in north-central Washington not far from the Carlton Complex fire, which incinerated a 400-square area.
Love put out water and threw fruit under his horse trailer where the 37-pound wounded bear crawled for cover.
"Later in the evening, she was lying down making pitiful whimpering noises," Love told Komo News. "I got about 6 feet away, sat down and talked to it in a soothing way, telling it things would be OK. It seemed to make it feel better. It stopped making the noises."
Fish and Wildlife captured little Cinder, as she would later be named, and a Seattle pilot volunteered to fly the young bear suffering from third degree burns on all four paws to Lake Tahoe Wildlife Care in California.
The care center’s co-founder Tom Millham said it could take several months before Cinder is healed enough to be released back into the wild, but her prognosis looked good. She will remain on a regimen of antibiotics and pain medication.
"Burns, whether you're a bear or a person, are very painful," Millham said.
In 2009, a Koala bear called Sam caught the world’s attention, when she survived the Australian Mirboo North bushfire and was photographed with a firefighter giving her water from a bottle.
"I could see she had sore feet and was in trouble, so I pulled over the fire truck. She just plonked herself down, as if to say 'I'm beat'," said volunteer firefighter Dave Tree. "I offered her a drink of water and she drank three bottles. She took my hand. I’ll never forget that.”
Unfortunately, Sam later died from an unrelated infectious disease.
In addition to costly damages, every wildfire kills indiscriminately, from firefighters and hapless residents to wildlife that include deer, elk, coyotes, wolves, rabbits, squirrels, chipmunks, possums, weasels, badgers, skunks and a multitude of reptiles and smaller rodents. Even some birds and raptors can’t escape being torched by a fast-moving blaze that towers 100-feet above the treetops.
“The fires are an added burden,” said Lisa Bates, director and co-founder of the Tucson Wildlife Center. “Normally we take them [recovered wildlife] right back to their territory … but if the territory is burnt, there won’t be any food … or places where they’ll be safe.”
If an injured bird or animal is found, wildlife experts recommend putting it into a cooler or safe container with a towel or bedding; then immediately contact a local rescue organization for help.
The loss of entire ecosystems that are home to wildlife is incalculable and rarely included in statistical reports on cost of damages.
Statistics on loss of wildlife are not an endeavor any private or federal agency can provide, because it’s easier to tally the survivors, including the burned and wounded, lucky ones like Cinder and Sam.