On August 9, wildfires devastated the historic area of Lahaina in Maui, Hawaii, resulting in unimaginable damage to both its human and animal inhabitants. The cause of the fire remains undetermined, but factors such as low humidity, dry vegetation, and high winds from Hurricane Dora contributed to its rapid spread. This makes it the deadliest fire since California's 2018 Camp Fire.
The Maui wildfires have inflicted extensive damage on the historic town, the largest community on the island's west side. As of August 11, a county spokesperson has confirmed that the fires have resulted in the tragic loss of over 55 lives in the area.
So what are the implications of these fires, how can you keep your pets safe in the event of a natural disaster, and how can you help Maui?
The dangers of wildfires for pets
Wildfires pose serious risks to people, pets, and wildlife alike. Here's a look at why they are particularly dangerous for pets:
Smoke inhalation: The thick smoke from wildfires can cause respiratory distress in pets, much like in humans. This can be particularly severe in animals with existing respiratory conditions.
Burns and injuries: Pets caught in the path of a wildfire can suffer from burns and other injuries, not only from the flames but from hot embers and debris as well.
Displacement: Wildfires often lead to evacuations, and pets can become separated from their families in the chaos. Without proper identification and shelter, displaced pets are at risk.
Stress and anxiety: Even if not directly affected by the flames or smoke, pets can become highly stressed by the sights, smells, and sounds of a wildfire. This can lead to behavioral issues and long-term trauma.
Examples of past wildfires that have affected pets
California's 2018 Camp Fire: The deadliest and most destructive fire in California's history led to a significant number of pet casualties. Many pets were left behind during hurried evacuations, leading to rescue missions that often came too late.
2017 Tubbs Fire in California: This fire resulted in the displacement of thousands of pets. Shelters and organizations worked around the clock to reunite pets with their owners, showcasing the importance of pet identification and microchipping.
2020 Australian Bushfires: These catastrophic fires affected not only domestic pets but also an estimated one billion wild animals. Many pets were lost or injured, and rescue organizations faced the overwhelming task of treating and caring for injured wildlife.
2013 Yarnell Hill Fire in Arizona: Pets and livestock were among the victims of this tragic fire. Community members and organizations rallied to provide shelter and care for displaced animals, emphasizing the need for community preparedness and coordinated response.
Supporting Maui animal shelters and organizations
In times of crisis, local animal shelters and organizations often step in to provide shelter, medical care, and support for displaced and injured pets. If you're looking to donate or learn more, we suggest you focus on:
Animal Shelters and Rescues: Local animal shelters and rescue organizations often coordinate efforts to take in displaced pets, provide medical treatment, and reunite them with their families.
Veterinary Clinics and Hospitals: Local vet clinics might offer free or discounted services to pets affected by the wildfire and may be involved in rescue and rehabilitation efforts.
Community Outreach Programs: Community groups may organize donation drives, foster networks, and volunteer efforts to support animals and their families affected by the wildfire.
How to help animal victims of the Maui wildfires
If you are looking to support the efforts to aid animals affected by a wildfire in Maui or elsewhere, here's what you might do:
Donate to Reputable Organizations:
Look for local animal shelters, rescues, and other organizations actively involved in wildfire response, and consider donating money, supplies, or time.
Adopt or Foster:
With shelters likely overwhelmed, consider adopting or fostering a pet to free up space and resources for animals directly affected by the fire.
Use social media and other platforms to share information about the needs of local animal shelters and the ways people can help.
Some specific organizations that are accepting help and/or donations are:
The Maui Humane Society
The Maui Humane Society's mission is focused on the protection and welfare of animals in Maui. Their goal is to foster a community where no animals are abandoned, neglected, abused, or euthanized.
The organization works to provide shelter and care for animals, facilitate adoption and fostering, promote responsible pet ownership, and advocate for animal welfare. Their services often include rescue, medical care, spaying and neutering, and public education about animal care and rights.
Hawaii Animal Refuge Foundation
The Hawaii Animal Rescue Foundation is a unique, private, non-profit charitable organization in Maui County that, for more than 10 years, has been committed to the philosophy of people helping animals and animals helping people.
Tragedies like this underscore the vulnerability of people and pets during wildfires and highlight the essential role of planning, community support, and coordinated efforts by rescue organizations. It also brings to light the importance of understanding the unique needs and behaviors of pets during such crises, and the role that pet owners can play in ensuring their safety and well-being.
Whether it's through proper identification, creating an emergency plan, or understanding local resources, the relationship between humans and their pets requires careful consideration and action in the face of these unpredictable and devastating natural disasters.
Lizz Caputo is the Manager of Content Strategy at Figo, animal enthusiast, and owner of a rescued senior American Bully. Her hobbies include checking out new restaurants in her area, boxing, and petting dogs of all shapes and sizes.