PUUNENE, Hawaii — A dog with hind legs bandaged tightly from paw to hip whimpered in pain through a plastic medical cone, chest rising and falling quickly in shallow breaths.
The animal is one of the pets and people bearing marks of their escape from the smoke and flames of Maui wildfires that claimed more than 90 lives and decimated a historic town.
“We have seen animals come through our shelter that have severe, severe burns,” said Katie Shannon, director of marketing and communications at Maui Humane Society. “We have seen dogs that have essentially had their paws all the way burnt down to the bone from running from the fire.”
The deadliest U.S. wildfire in more than 100 years has left hundreds of dogs, cats and other pets lost, injured or dead. An estimated 3,000 animals from Lahaina remain missing, according to the Maui Humane Society, which is now trying to reunite pets with owners and treat the many animals that arrived at clinics wrapped in blankets covering wounds.
“We have had chickens, love birds, guinea pigs, rabbits, dogs, cats,” Shannon said. “We even have a pig here.”
Fueled by dry grass and propelled by strong winds from a passing hurricane, the fires raced as fast as a mile (1.6 kilometers) every minute in one area, forcing people to scramble and flee in harrowing escapes they later relayed to family members who waited in agony to learn of their fate.
The stories of the animals, though, were told by the damage on their bodies.
A cat arrived with singed fur and spots of leg burns. A chicken needed both scorched claws wrapped with thick, blue medical tape.
A clinic worker used surgical tweezers to delicately remove debris from a dog’s paws while another technician cradled the head, rubbed the neck with gentle thumb strokes and spoke calmly into the animal’s ear.
They were the lucky ones. On a Maui street, a dog’s charred body was found.
As the smoke clears and officials survey the scope of loss and destruction, animal welfare advocates are working with the Maui Police Department to enter the burn area in search of lost, injured or deceased animals.
“As those areas continue to widen,” said Lisa Labrecque, CEO of the Maui Humane Society, at a Monday news conference, “we will be able to expand our scope of services.”
Dozens of feeding stations stocked with food and water have been set to draw scared animals out of hiding so they can be tracked and transported to a shelter, where veterinary staffers treat both burn injuries and smoke inhalation cases.
Found animals are checked for identification and scanned for a microchip so owners may be contacted. The Maui Humane Society has asked that deceased animals not be moved or destroyed so they can be cataloged and checked for identification.
“But this is only the beginning,” Shannon said. “People need to understand that we are in the midst of this. And, you know, there is a harsh reality to come.”