British Columbia

In B.C., fire evacuees scramble to pack up animals or leave them behind

Whether it be livestock or household pets, animals are getting caught up in wildfire evacuations too.

'You're stuck between a rock and a hard place,' says owner who set horses loose

Some pet owners had the chance to grab their animals before they left home. These two dogs rode in the back of a pickup truck in Williams Lake. (Simon Hergott)

Brei Andrews got a knock on the door at her ranch in 100 Mile House on Sunday night, confirming what she'd been expecting for a few days: wildfires were forcing her family out of their home. 

The 20-year-old had been preparing to load up her sheep, rabbits, cats and dogs since Friday. When the time finally came, she coaxed four of her horses into a trailer but two of the youngest — her "babies" — refused.

In the end, Andrews had to leave them behind.

"We waited until the last possible second and then when we had to leave, we just let them loose," she said.

Brei Andrews had to leave her horse, Andino, behind when she was told to leave her home in 100 Mile House as a wildfire approached. (Brei Andrews)

"It was really hard. You're stuck between a rock and a hard place ... They were either going to hurt me or hurt themselves."

She's one of many animals owners in B.C. who've been left scrambling when evacuation orders come down.

Meechan's friend rode one horse and tethered a second on a trip from 108 Mile Ranch to 100 Mile House. (Laura Meechan )

British Columbians step up

Andrews painted her phone number on the horses' hoofs before setting them loose. She posted pictures of them online, asking people to keep an eye out for the pair.

Facebook groups to help owners reunite with animals left behind have appeared in droves in recent days. One of the largest, called B.C.'s Emergency Livestock and Animal Evacuation Group, has thousands of members.

There, owners can find a real-time map showing where dozens of people have offered to house animals. Owners are also able to plot requests for help. 

In Prince George, the local equine society has answered those requests, taking in more than a dozen animals from neighbouring cities. President Norah Wallach stayed awake for 48 hours to help incoming horses over the weekend.

"A friend just put the word out that we needed help, and about 80 people came down here," she said, adding that some owners had been invited to stay on the property as well.

Norah Wallach, president of the Prince George Equine Society, stayed awake for two days straight to help take in horses displaced by wildfire. Some of the animals' owners are staying on her property. (Andrew Kurjata/CBC)

CDART mobilized

The Canadian Disaster Animal Response Team (CDART) has also been brought in across much of the central and southern sections of the province. Volunteers are on hand to help rescue, shelter and care for animals when owners can't.

The organization has also set up temporary shelters in some areas, documenting pets as they roll through.

Information officer Ron McConnell said the best thing owners can do is register with their local emergency reception centre first, then ask to be directed to the nearest CDART outpost.

"We'll take just about any animal," he said. "They're family too."

The B.C. SPCA's Marcie Moriarty said deciding what to do with livestock can be an emotional decision in an already stressful evacuation situation, but human safety needs to be "paramount."

"It's obviously very tough ... but that has to come first," she said.

For Andrews, there was a spot of good news: someone found her horses on Monday and brought them into a pen, safe and sound with some food.

That, Moriarity said, is the best people can hope for.

Kelsey Thorne's home on the Ashcroft First Nation was destroyed. Here, she holds her cat which survived. (Darryl Dyck/Canadian Press)

Those living in the Thompson-Nicola area can call 1-866-377-7188 with questions about livestock or find information on where to take their animals here.

Anyone being evacuated from the Cariboo can click here for information for their area or call the public information line at (250) 392-4283. 

The BC SPCA has advised that owners call their local Emergency Operations Centre to confirm where they can take their animals.

To find out more about CDART, visit their Facebook page

With files from Andrew Kurjata