‘Nobody knew what to do’: Better planning needed for animal wildfire evacuations, advocates say

Gap in plans to get animals to safety during wildfires
WATCH: In a wildfire evacuation knowing how to get animals out safely - and where to take them - is challenging, especially for farmers with livestock. Some volunteers who helped this past summer say they were inundated with owners in need highlighting a gap in the province's response plans. In part five of our series of News Hour follow-ups, Neetu Garcha looks at the ideas being proposed to close that gap.

Kelly Kennedy spent much of the summer helping animals that were forced to flee areas of B.C. threatened by wildfires.

She says rescuing and caring for livestock during this summer’s unprecedented wildfire season was anything but organized.

“Nobody knew what to do, nobody knew where to go, nobody knew where to get funds from,” she said.

Kennedy’s Kamloops ranch took in nearly 100 animals. She says her family received support from the community but there were cases of donations being misused by people falsely claiming to be animal rescuers.

“There was no accountability for a lot of things,” she said. “There were so many people wanting to help and didn’t know where to go, who to give to, where to send donations.”

READ MORE: Pressy Lake residents want to know why more wasn’t done to protect them from wildfire

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Kennedy wants government officials to create a provincewide emergency response plan specifically for animals.

The plan would include a registration process and clear protocols.

“Each region should have their own emergency plan or safe zone for animals to go to,” she said. coverage of B.C. wildfires

During the summer, Kennedy’s ranch served as an unofficial evacuation centre. RVs lined the property that became home to dozens of animals and evacuees from all over B.C.’s Southern Interior.

Kennedy said she would be willing to have her property take on a more formal role, serving as an emergency evacuation centre for the Thompson-Nicola region.

Bonnie McBride — co-ordinator for Four Paws Food Bank, which cared for around 1,200 domestic pets — said they want the province to step up financially so evacuated pet owners know their animals will be cared for “because if they don’t, they risk either not evacuating or they delay it.”

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READ MORE: He left his ranch to gather supplies amid B.C.’s wildfires. He came back, and it had burnt down

Horse Council BC, a non-profit advocate for horse owners, says the province could learn from Alberta’s approach.

“They have started building an equine emergency plan and they’re working with government and the livestock sector to bring a plan together,” executive director Linda Laycock said.

Forests Minister Doug Donaldson says the province is willing to look at these ideas as it reviews this year’s wildfire response.

Advocates say a plan needs to be in place in time for next year’s wildfire season, which is now just six months away.