Can animals survive wildfires?

Deer after the Table Mountain Fire in 2012. Photo: James McCarthy/DNR.
Deer after the Table Mountain Fire in 2012. Photo: James McCarthy/DNR.

You’ll be glad to know that most wild animals do survive wildfires. They are much smarter than we give them credit for.

Because large animals and birds can flee quickly from approaching flames, they rarely die in wildfires. Others, not so fast or just too small, burrow underground and wait for the impending disaster to pass overhead.
So, do animals need our help escaping from wildfires? “Not really,” says Mike McMillan with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. But, he adds, “It is up to all of us to take care of our precious public lands and the amazing creatures that live there.”

Animals, forests and forest fires are all part of a natural, healthy cycle. Many plants and animals depend on naturally occurring wildfire to flourish. Wildfire provides habitat, cleans the forest floor, kills disease and insects, and so much more.

Many types of quail, foxes, bears, squirrels and other animals depend on fire to keep undergrowth in check. Consequently, all forest-dwelling plants and animals have co-evolved with the inevitable fires and have found ways to adapt.

“Don’t worry about the animals,” says Bill Leenhouts, a fire ecologist with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. “Most animals actually escape the fires.” See more of what Bill says in an ABC News special.

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