Health & Environment

Veterinary Emergency Team Provides Assistance Amid Texas Wildfires

The team's recent deployment to the largest wildfire in Texas history helped animals and communities in need while serving as a learning opportunity for students.
By Texas A&M University Division of Marketing and Communications March 14, 2024

a photo of ranch workers unloading hay from a pickup while cows are feeding on the hay in a pasture with a windmill.
Ranch workers put out hay for cattle as smoke from nearby wildfires fills the air on March 2, 2024, in Roberts County, Texas.

Sam Craft/Texas A&M AgriLife Marketing and Communications


Amid the devastating, deadly wildfires tearing through large pockets of the Panhandle, the Texas A&M University Veterinary Emergency Team quickly became one of the units providing critical assistance to those in need.

The team’s 10-day deployment to the state’s largest wildfire in history was not only welcome in the communities impacted by the blaze, but it provided students with invaluable experiences by giving a deeper understanding of the challenges and responsibilities inherent in veterinary emergency response.

As sad as the situation is in Canadian, Texas — just 25 miles south of the Texas-Oklahoma border — fourth-year veterinary student Jessica Stephenson said the experience was something she “wouldn’t trade for anything.”

“It was startling — everything was scorched down to the sand — just these black nubs where the grass was, charred chimneys left in some areas and then there would be random pockets of normal,” said Stephenson, whose duties included helping treat cattle and horses with burns and/or suffering from smoke inhalation. “(They) also had damage to their eyes — a thermal corneal damage that kind of turns their eyes blue.”

Stephenson was one of eight students who deployed with the 29-member Texas A&M team that included professors from A&M’s School of Veterinary Medicine and Biomedical Sciences. Another six individuals from other regions also joined their efforts.

Dr. Debra Zoran, director of the Veterinary Emergency Team, said the team’s recent deployment was its fifth wildfire response.

“Every disaster is literally a new experience for our team, because each deployment, each new group of people impacted, each different location affected brings its own unique emotional impacts, challenges and opportunities,” Zoran said.

Transporting all the necessary equipment to perform their duties was not a minor undertaking: The team made the nearly 500-mile drive with three medical trailers, four field service trucks, a medical logistics/command center, a trailer, a box truck with a generator and a shelter trailer.

Working canines with rescue teams also were under the close monitoring care of the Veterinary Medicine Team. Texas A&M Task Force 1 and Task Force 2, both urban search and rescue teams, together brought 13 canines to work in shifts.

Zoran said the team is a critical element of the response, providing immediate care to search and rescue canines while they are working in dangerous and difficult conditions.

By the end of VET’s deployment, the team had treated or provided care to 262 animals, including cows, dogs, cats, horses, donkeys, a goat and a pig. Another 650-plus head of cattle were evaluated at various ranches across West Texas. Officials with the Texas Division of Emergency Management, which is overseen by the A&M System, said more than 7,000 head of cattle died in the fires.

Zoran said the team’s role as caregivers is critical to the recovery of animals, “but we also know that one of the most important ways we help in these terrible moments is simply to be there to help provide the comfort of knowing that people are here to help you in your time of great need.”

Stephenson said she’ll return to the classroom following spring break even more dedicated to her field.

“I am incredibly grateful that the Texas A&M Vet Emergency Team exists,” she said. “They provide a service that for so long, no one even really recognized as needing to exist. Knowing that you actually have people out there who are willing to step in and keep an eye on the animals for you so that the big teams can really focus on this devastating loss of human life, human property, that is really an amazing fit.”

The Texas A&M Forest Service and Texas A&M AgriLife — both agencies within the Texas A&M University System — undertook quintessential responsibilities in battling the blaze and offering resources, according to TDEM.

For more about the significant efforts of AgriLife, read these stories.

Fire Chief Wes Moorehead with the Texas A&M Forest Service said the statewide response to the fires reflects the resilience of the communities and the commitment of those responding to danger.

“The recent wildfires in the Panhandle posed significant challenges, yet they underscored our unwavering dedication to serving the state,” said Moorehead, who gave more details about his team in a story on Texas A&M Today. “Our firefighters, and those from across the state, answered the call to protect lives and property across the Panhandle from these destructive wildfires. The tremendous response effort was possible due to the collaboration with agencies across the state to respond safely and efficiently. This is truly what Texans helping Texans looks like.”

Media contact: Jennifer Gauntt,, 979-862-4216

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