What Happens to Animals in Wildfires?


With dozens of major fires currently burning across the American West, animal lovers everywhere are wondering what happens to the wildlife living in an area burned by a forest fire.   Animals of all types living in fire zones face dangers from smoke, heat, and flames. Some are able to escape, but sadly, some are not.


The most vulnerable animals in a fire tend to be the youngest and smallest. Some animals may not be able to run fast enough to escape...and panic and inexperience could lead to a fatal mistake, like climbing a tree instead of running away. Running from fires could also lead animals across roads, where they are in danger of getting struck by cars. Baby birds are unable to fly away from the nest in a fire.


Generally, animals do know what to do when fire approaches their habitat. Birds will fly away, some mammals will run to safety while others will seek refuge in rivers or lakes. Small animals like amphibians will burrow underground or crawl under rocks and logs. Scientists report that predators like bears can be seen going after prey animals fleeing a fire.


What happens after a fire? Birds like woodpeckers will often go into an area damaged by fire and feast on insects like beetles in burned trees. The landscape changes after a fire, with some plants replacing others. Some of these new plants are attractive to animals as food or shelter.


Scientists are concerned about the destruction of forest habitats, and also Western sagebrush ecosystems, in fires. Sagebrush habitats can take over 120 years to recover from fire. Animals like grouse, mule deer, and pronghorn are in danger of losing their habitats as wildfires continue to ravage the West.



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  • Aaron Seminoff
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