• The Publisher’s Notebook •
One Wildfire Casualty of Many
BY ANNE SOBLE
As heartbreaking as the human losses to wildfire are, the impact on wildlife is so great that it can defy comprehension. Most of the time people try not to think about it. I’ve often covered local fires from helicopters. Images of deer running with their backs on fire, charred remains of coyotes, clusters of asphyxiated rabbits, and dead birds scattered everywhere are indelible. Then there is the loss of habitat in an animal world where habitat is already at a premium.
To me, right up there with the courageous firefighters and support personnel on the fire lines, are the people, volunteers for the most part, who try to aid the critters that didn’t perish but were unable to elude the flames. Wildlife rehabilitators tend to be an extraordinary and individualistic lot. As they do during all Southland infernos, many dropped their jobs and other responsibilities this week to aid fire victims with fur or feathers. They do this even though they know many of the injured will probably not survive.
But one great horned owl has a fighting chance because a firefighter reacted quickly, and an avian rehabber with Valley Wildlife Care took him in. A firefighter spotted the owl flying through roaring flames in the Sylmar fire and realized that it was acting erratically, disoriented by the smoke and heat. The firefighter instinctively sprayed water on the bird and eased it to the ground. The male owl’s eyes were singed. His eyelids were almost burned off.
There was so much ash in the owl’s feathers, eyes, nose and throat, it was astounding he was still alive. When the rehabber took over; the owl’s eyes were flushed, he was given IV fluids and allowed to rest. VWC says he is getting stronger, but still needs oxygen and cool compresses on his eyes. What the rehabber doesn’t know is whether the owl’s vision is permanently damaged. When the bird’s condition is stable, a veterinary ophthalmologist will do tests. If the owl is able to see, when he is strong enough, he will be returned to where he was found to take part in the natural renewal that will ultimately occur.