How animals are affected by Colorado’s Pine Gulch Fire

Grace King-Wagner, Editor

The Pine Gulch Fire burned in Mesa County and Garfield County, Colorado. The fire was started by a lightning strike and was first reported on July 31, 2020. The blaze quickly grew, eventually becoming the largest wildfire in Colorado history, surpassing the 2002 Hayman Fire that previously held that title. Many Coloradans have been worried about the fires, and even though they’re a natural disaster that may in the long run benefit our ecosystem, it doesn’t easily settle in our minds. When we stop to consider the wildlife and domesticated animals who were inevitably impacted, their loss of life and home brings up a lot of grief.

Jo Varner, a senior at Fruita Monument High School who lives in Loma, Colorado says, “One day one of our older cows just dropped and started having a seizure. My mom said she had to put her down so she wouldn’t suffer. Then later that day another one did the same thing. She was also nursing at the time. We put her down as well. We called every vet we know and they said they may have eaten a pesticide from the grass that my dad mows. We didn’t think that could happen because he hasn’t put anything on the yards he mows,” Varner continues, “We started to look it up and came to the assumption that the ash from the fires has built up so much that it makes them sick.” Evidently, you never know how bad a wildfire can affect animals, even if they aren’t directly from the area that the fire is in.

As reported by the The Daily Sentinel, Tera Fawkes, a vet tech at Dr. Gary’s Animal Clinic in Grand Junction, said this week has been busy for the clinic due to people bringing in dogs and other animals suffering from the combination of smoke and hot temperatures. “A lot of animals are being affected right now. It’s pretty bad,” she said. She continues to explain, “the clinic is seeing a lot of cases involving dogs getting seizures, including ones that never have had seizures before. Certain dog breeds such as bulldogs, pugs and Boston terriers are having an especially hard time right now.” She said her own dog doesn’t like coming inside, but she had to bring him in due to his coughing and red eyes. Fawkes’s report is eerily similar to Varner’s experience with her cattle out in Loma.

On Facebook, the clinic urged people to keep their pets inside as much as possible and to call if they need help boarding their pets due to wildfires. Fawkes said the local company Ruff Around the Edges, which provides pet services including boarding, has been great at helping take in animals as necessary, and lots of people are opening their properties to help with animals. They’re taking in livestock as well if needed.

Pine Gulch Fire may make it harder to track down wildlife, making it harder for this season’s hunters. In previous years, the area near Douglas Pass was a popular place to elk hunt. Randy Hampton from Colorado Parks and Wildlife says, “a lot of deer and elk moved out of the area. Firefighters are telling us that they are seeing animals on the fringes of the fire.” Rifle season begins in October, and if conditions aren’t right, many hunters do not want to wait until next year. They are eager to hunt now. Jerry Stehman, owner of Jerry’s Outdoor Sports and avid hunter, says he does not usually hunt in the area where the Pine Gulch Fire burnt since the terrain is too rugged. He, as well as other hunters, prefer hunting elsewhere. He says, “I do not believe the wildfire is going to affect hunting much at all.” If hunters are not able to hunt this year though, it could eventually create a population increase in elk and deer, which sometimes invade private properties near Douglas Pass. Elk and deer overpopulation leads to a strain on resources used by other animals such as horses, cattle, sheep, etc. As autumn approaches, officials are confident the hunting conditions will improve. Hampton says, “we are really hopeful that things will be much better by mid-October, and by next year, we will really see a positive impact.”

According to, there are elk, mule deer, desert bighorn sheep, turkey, mountain lion, bobcat, bear and several different species of birds and reptiles living on land around the Grand Valley. There is also a wild horse herd. About 160 wild horses live in the Little Book Cliffs Wild Horse Range, where they roam over 36,000 acres. The Pine Gulch Fire is about eight miles north of the Range and is moving to the north and east. Fortunately, the fire is not threatening or endangering the herd. InciWeb describes, “fire is a natural part of the ecosystem and aids in regeneration of vegetation, which in turns helps provide future feed for wild horses and wildlife. During wildfire suppression efforts, people should avoid visiting the Horse Range and honor all road closures to help support firefighters.” InciWeb does continue to say that if the fire should become a threat to the wild horse herd, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) will develop plans to reduce impacts on the herd.

We can only do our best to beat this heat by keeping our animals indoors as much as possible, and by providing them with an abundance of water and fresh food and feed. Also, always consult your veterinarian for any questions and concerns. It’s good to know there is a lot of help out there for people who have been having problems with their animals due to the wildfires. Unfortunately, a lot of people have lost animals already, and the creatures will be sorely missed, and so will the wild animals that may have not survived.