By Bianca M. Caraza, Global Animal

Photo Credit: Arizona Wildlife Guide

Since May 29, a ferocious wildfire has been rapidly burning through Arizona, and is now on record as the largest in the state’s history. Eating up over 732 square miles between Arizona and New Mexico, amazingly, only 31 homes have been lost so far. Many, however, are wondering about the acres of land lost that served as a home to Arizona’s thriving wildlife.

The fire has and will continue to most effect Arizona’s birds, such as the falcons, accipiters, bueteos, eagles, and owls native to the state. While ground-dwelling animals may burrow under the soil until a fire passes, even the tallest trees are victims of the blaze. Birds may fly away, but not without leaving behind any un-hatched eggs or flightless fledglings to burn. Even worse, without plentiful trees, surviving birds are left homeless, unable to establish new nests.

Scientists predict that the worst of the damage to Arizona’s wildlife will be seen after the fire. Once its ashes run into streams and similar bodies of water, fish will be poisoned by the droves. Restoring populations, one wildlife expert says, could take up to five years.

Photo Credit: National Geographic/Michael Melford

Arizona serves as a permanent habitat to elk, steer, boars, black bears, pronghorn, and coyotes. But while human homes may be permanently devastated by a fire of this size, Mother Nature is prepared for this sort of disaster. Expert Jim Paxton assured worried habitat conversationalists that animals are much smarter than humans in that they’re constantly sensing heat and seeking cooler shelters when one area grows too hot. He went on to explain that animals are constantly evolving with their environments and, ultimately, these environments are flexible and resilient. “Fire is natural. Fire is Mother Nature’s broom to sweep the floor clean.” Said Paxton.

Areas which are passed over quickly by the intense fire will likely only suffer on the surface—a topsoil burn. Wildlife expert Ralph Maughn said, “Where it’s a light burn, it might even be a renewal, people probably will say it looks better 10 years from now. In the places where it’s a medium or intensive burn, that’s another question. It might be a couple of lifetimes in the intense burned areas.”

With a bit of luck and even more rain, these areas will resurface greener and more lush than ever before.