Fort McMurray Wildfire Crisis Impacts Horses
By Margaret Evans
As the savage, out-of-control wildfire ravaged through Fort McMurray, Alberta, raining embers, engulfing neighbourhoods, and growing to over 100,000 hectares in just days, a mandatory evacuation sent some 88,000 residents fleeing for safety with children and pets in tow. It’s the largest fire-related evacuation in Alberta’s history. In a day, an estimated 1,600 homes and business structures were reduced to ash and rubble. As 49 fires burned across Alberta, Premier Rachel Notley declared a province-wide state of emergency.
But for people with horses, the evacuation is a greater challenge. Some horses were loaded into trailers and joined the exodus out of town, a few were ridden out, but others were left behind with grazing and water to make the best of what faced them.
No time was wasted. The Alberta equine community stepped up to the plate to offer help to Fort McMurray horse owners as people opened their farms and homes offering shelter, feed and care.
Photo courtesy of AEF
The Alberta Equestrian Federation (AEF) is the first point of contact for equine updates and they are receiving information directly from Alberta Agriculture and Forestry Emergency directors. In addition, they are in communication with the Alberta Veterinary Medical Association, Horse Racing Alberta, and many other provincial equine organizations working to coordinate help for horses and owners in need.
The association has been compiling a growing list of individuals and businesses opening their farms and homes to help those affected by the fire. But the immediate priority is to gather information on equine owners who still have horses left behind in the Fort McMurray area.
“We are passing on information to the Government on people who still have horses in the fire zone,” said Sonia Dantu, executive director, AEF. “We need the contact information for those people first and foremost.”
While many have stepped up to offer their facilities to house horses, some horse owners are understandably cautious.
“That’s not their priority right now,” said Dantu. “Most have friends who will help them out. [Some] don’t want strangers taking their horses.”
Dantu said that questions can surface. Where has their horse been taken to? Is this free board? Are there charges involved for transportation and feed? Uncertainty about what immediately lies ahead and what the future holds can hamper decisions on the next best course of action.
As AEF compiles a list of people willing to house horses, they also ask that those facility owners familiarize themselves with the biosecurity best practices protocols to prevent disease outbreak and spread. More information on best practices is available from AEF.
But at the top of the list, said, Dantu, is the need for monetary funds for feed, water, transportation and veterinary care. Time is of the essence. The AEF will match donations received up to $5,000. Other items will be needed at a later date and AEF will be trying to help co-ordinate that relief effort too.
Photo courtesy of AEF
Donations over $250 will be eligible for a taxable receipt when donated through the Alberta Sport Connection Donation Fund. The form is available on the AEF website and social media. If you can help, email email@example.com or contact the office at 403-253-4411, ext. 7, or toll-free 1-877-463-6233, ext. 7.
While the situation is still too dangerous for many animal rescue missions, the Alberta SPCA as well as other animal welfare agencies are ready to respond if asked to do so by the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo. According to their website, the Alberta SPCA will coordinate a livestock response. They are welcoming livestock boarding and ask that information be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org.
For those with pets, the Edmonton Humane Society (EHS) and Animal Care & Control Centre – Edmonton are co-ordinating pet care for evacuees arriving in Edmonton and needing a safe place for their pets while they deal with their own immediate housing needs. According to their website, they are working with assistance from the Alberta Veterinary Medical Association. In addition they are prepared to conduct animal rescue operations for pets left behind at Fort McMurray when safe to do so. They will accept monetary donations for their Disaster Fund as well as pet food and supplies. For more information, contact EHS at 780-471-1774.
Anyone wishing to donate to relief efforts can also do so at the Canadian Red Cross, Alberta Fires Appeal online (www.redcross.ca), or by calling 1-800-418-1111 or by calling their local Red Cross office. You can also text REDCROSS to 30333 to make a $5 donation. The federal and Alberta governments are matching donations made to the Red Cross.
Tragedy grinds the soul, but it inspires us too. Tragedies can bring out the best in people as help from strangers cements lifelong friendships. Generosity, love and compassion are boundless as people reach out to those suffering loss, ready to share their footsteps and hoofbeats on the human/equine journey.
For more information, visit: www.albertaequestrian.com.
Main Photo: Thinkstock/Hooves-Paws-Feet