Texas non-profit, volunteers rescue wildlife in panhandle fires: how to help

Editors note: The Texas A&M Forest Service announced Saturday, March 16 the panhandle fires are now 100% contained.

HARLINGEN, Texas (ValleyCentral) — The largest wildfire in state history spread across the Texas Panhandle for three weeks, damaging homes, destroying the livelihood of communities and injuring wildlife.

The Texas A&M Forest Service reported over 1.2 million acres of land burned across eight counties in Texas and parts of Oklahoma since Feb. 25.

One Texas non-profit organization in Amarillo is taking the initiative of using their resources to rescue animals injured in the fires.

Wild West Wildlife Rehabilitation Center is the only state, federal and USDA permitted facility for wildlife in the Texas Panhandle which serves 26 counties.

Over 3,000 animals have been rescued by Wild West WRC in 2023 with over 50 volunteers involved.

Out of the thousands of animal rescues experienced in extreme disasters, this is the first fire rescue mission the Wild West WRC has encountered.

"We envisioned all these wild animals that were injured, were just going to be like just dragging across the ground needing help, but that wasn't the case," said Stephanie Brady, Founder and Executive Director of Wild West WRC.

Burkburnett firefighters return home from Panhandle fires

On the first day of search, Wild West WRC volunteers scouted the area for 10 hours in search of animals impacted by the fires, however, no animals were found that day.

"In fact, what we did find is fresh footprints on top of the search of animals that made it. Animals are very smart," Brady said. "They have that built in knowledge that we don't have of the weather and things going on around them. So, a lot of them were able to flee ahead of time."

While many animals were able to flee, many injured animals appeared in the following days in search of help.

Courtesy of Stephanie Brady, Founder of Wild West Wildlife Rehabilitation Center Courtesy of Stephanie Brady, Founder of Wild West Wildlife Rehabilitation Center Courtesy of Stephanie Brady, Founder of Wild West Wildlife Rehabilitation Center Courtesy of Stephanie Brady, Founder of Wild West Wildlife Rehabilitation Center Courtesy of Stephanie Brady, Founder of Wild West Wildlife Rehabilitation Center

The non-profit has partnered with first responders to keep an eye on injured animals in need of help. They have also provided help by utilizing a local medical facility, Texas Game Wardens and a biologist of the state.

Firefighters from parts of Texas, including Pharr and Killeen volunteered to help assist with the Texas Panhandle fires.

Donate now to Texas Panhandle Wildfire Relief Fund

"It's been the community getting our name out there and letting everyone know we're here and we can help. This has been the most important thing," Brady said.

Wild West WRC has rescued over 20 animals from the panhandle fires including baby squirrels, coyotes, birds, a barn owl and a porcupine.

However, the non-profit's wildfire rescue mission is far from done.

Brady says out of all places she has been, the community in the Texas panhandle is unlike anywhere else.

"People really come together and they help, even when we were driving to go look for injured wildlife," Brady said. "Some people were just in their own truck with supplies racing up there either for the first responders fighting the fires, or the people that have lost things."

Residents outside the panhandle area who would like to support Wild West WRC's fire rescue mission from afar are encouraged to donate and bring awareness to the panhandle fires.

"If they just want to donate that helps because we run on donations, that's what keeps our doors open," Brady said. "That's what allows us to do what we do and to be able to drive and pay for the medical care and the food and everything."

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