Arizona wildfires force evacuation of veterinarian; animal impact minimal

Arizona wildfires force evacuation of veterinarian; animal impact minimal

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Jun 21, 2011
Eager, Ariz. — Dr. Michael Cook is back at his practice in Eager, Ariz. after an eight-day evacuation from a wildfire now considered the largest in Arizona history.

His wife, Patty, who helps run his practice, tells DVM Newsmagazine that the fire came within four miles of their veterinary hospital, Round Valley Veterinary Clinic, and within one mile of their home.

U.S. Forest Service, Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest/Jayson Coil
Deer flee from the wildfire near Greer, Ariz.



Thousands of firefighters have been battling Wallow Fire since May 29. The wildfire claimed some 519,319 acres to date, according to government sources. And while it's considered 50 percent contained, residents in areas around the blaze are returning home. The cause of the fire is believed to be an abandoned campfire, according to the U.S. Forest Service. More fires have sprouted up throughout the Southeast, but Patty says many of the thousands of people forced to evacuate have heeded warning calls to leave impacted areas.

Her veterinarian husband, who is working to catch up with patients since returning to his practice June 16, stayed as late as he could, giving vaccinations and distributing his clients' medical records before fleeing to nearby Show Low June 7. There was little time to prepare the practice before evacuation, she says. But they did have a chance to evacuate their own animals, which includes 20 dogs, two cats, two donkeys, two mules and a pregnant mare.

“We had to leave pretty quickly since we stayed so long at the clinic,” she says.

No domestic animals in the area are believed to have needed veterinary treatment because of complications related to the fires (smoke inhalation, burns, etc.) Patty says she heard about an elk that had to be euthanized because its feet were badly burned.

Round Valley is the only veterinary practice for quite a distance, explains Dr. Milton Despain, owner of Cedar Ridge Veterinary Center in Snowflake, Ariz., about 60 miles from the Wallow Fire. Despain heard from a few of his clients from the fire-zone, but they were fine because they evacuated the area early.

“The biggest problem is the smoke,” he says, recalling a wildfire that hit Snowflake a decade ago. “But most people get out; most people listen.”

The Arizona, New Mexico and Texas veterinary medical associations say they all have offered assistance to members, but have not heard of any practitioners who have been directly impacted by wildfires.

Arizona Veterinary Medical Association’s Executive Director Emily Kane says the association has not been called to mobilize, but is dispensing information about supply collections for animals affected by the fire.

The Arizona Humane Society (AHS) has nearly 20 staff members and volunteers on its emergency response team at an emergency animal shelter in Show Low. The shelter, operated in partnership with Show Low Animal Control, is housing about 50 animals, according to AHS.

Arizona Humane Society veterinarian Dr. Richard Fisher—who traveled to Show Low from Phoenix—has been administering vaccinations, medications and animal identification at another shelter at the Apache County Fairgrounds in St. John.