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Local & State Officials Debate How To Help Wildlife Amid Wildfires

DENVER (CBS4) – Fires raging throughout Colorado have many residents concerned for animals' well-being. Colorado Parks and Wildlife says many animals have natural instincts that help them survive the fire, and they're able to fend for themselves, but Routt County officials suggest residents help them during the dry weather.

A Facebook post from Routt County Office of Emergency Management says:

"If you live anywhere near the fires that are decimating Colorado, please be aware that wild animals are fleeing the fires and they may show up in your yards. We urge you to bring your domestic animals in at night and let the wild ones pass through. Please put out buckets of water for them - they are scared, exhausted, and have also lost their homes - they need to refuel."

Mike Swinsick , District Chief of North Routt Fire Protection District, says he would never advise people feed wild animals. However, the weather conditions could leave animals dehydrated.

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"They're looking for water. They're looking for food, said Mike Swinsick , District Chief of North Routt Fire Protection District. "It's dry here. A lot of our streams are seasonal and if they're dried up and animals are moving through the area, they're looking for water."

In a more desert area, where water isn't readily available across the landscape, CPW says it may be a good recommendation to put water out. But in most parts of Colorado, CPW says it's a different ecosystem.

"There are a lot of creeks and streams that animals cross as they move away from these fires.  In that case, the best thing to do is to make sure you put anything that's an attraction away. You don't want pet food or water or things that attract animals outside your home, because that could make them dependent and lead to bigger problems down the road," said Randy Hampton of Colorado Parks and Wildlife. "Most of these fires are in areas where creeks and rivers are going to provide enough water that wildlife can find water from. The best thing to do is make sure your pets are inside your house at night and you're giving those animals space to move and go to where they need to go to," said Hampton.

CPW says the agency has gotten quite a few calls from people concerned about land mammals, but officials say it's birds, amphibians and fish that are more at risk.

"The fish population gets affected by heavy rain after a fire. It washes the ash off into those creeks and streams and suffocates the fish if it's thick and muddy. We had a bear in the Pine Gulch Fire that people were worried about. They said the bear might be injured. We went up and checked, the bear was fine," said Hampton, who says CPW is still keeping an eye on the bear.

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Hampton says many people are under the impression that fire is completely bad, but that's not the case on the landscape.

"We're not cheering for the fire. We want to protect homes and property, but at the same time, there's benefits to wildfire. Fire is such a natural part of the western ecosystem. It thins out overgrown brush and brings out young plant growth. It brings vibrant plant species that produce more berries, more food, more energy and more caloric value to these wildlife species," said Hampton.

Hampton says CPW spends a lot of time educating emergency responders on how to react to wild animals that that are evacuating from the fires. If you see injured wild animals, CPW urges you to call.

However, they say the best human help often comes later.

"The best thing people can do if they want to make a difference is get involved in efforts after the fire. People can help out with surveys after the fire and volunteer with efforts like replanting," said Hampton.

Colorado Parks and Wildlife says wild animals come with living in Colorado, but if you see wildlife in danger, you're encouraged to contact CPW. You can find more information at

RELATED: New Acreage Makes Pine Gulch Fire 3rd Largest In Colorado History

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