SPOKANE, Wash. — The Spokane County Sheriff’s Office is warning against unauthorized animal rescue and help groups venturing into wildfire areas.
The groups, which can sometimes operate under dishonest intentions, pose a safety hazard to first responders.
"We're not taking any more chances and we're not letting them jeopardize any lives anymore,” said Spokane County Sheriff Ozzie Knezovich.
Both Knezovich and the county’s emergency management deputy director expressed frustration regarding recent incidents with at least one of the groups.
On Wednesday, the Sheriff’s Office warned homeowners affected by wildfires to be cautious of people showing up to homes and offering help moving pets, animals and livestock.
“There are people, unfortunately, who may look at emergencies as an opportunity to race in with an offer to assist with less than honorable and sometimes criminal intentions,” wrote the Sheriff’s Office in a press release.
Chandra Fox, the Greater Spokane Emergency Management deputy director, said that unauthorized groups who “self-deploy” themselves to fire zones can interfere with legitimate response and firefighting efforts. The groups can often be “in the way” of first responders, Fox said. Knezovich added that some county roads in potential fire zones are narrow and could lend themselves to traffic jams if unofficial rescue groups drove on them.
"Nobody knows what they're doing. There's no control, there's no accountability,” said Fox. She added that the groups often don’t carry insurance and could cause liability headaches for homeowners."It's dangerous for everyone,” Fox said.
Fox said that the county’s emergency management office has a memorandum of understanding with HEART, a Spokane County-based volunteer non-profit animal rescue group. HEART is registered with the county and its volunteers are registered.
While neither Fox or Knezovich named any of the unauthorized rescue groups, they said at least one group has been made aware they can’t be in restricted fire areas clogging roads.
“You're entering a zone that is restricted at that point. And you're obstructing our abilities to do our jobs,” said Knezovich of the group. "If you don't listen to what we're asking you to do, we're going to arrest you at this point. And it's as simple as I can make it."
The Sheriff’s Office said that groups wishing to offer help during wildfires should contact the Greater Spokane Department of Emergency Management. Authorities said that allows the county to ensure that the group is property trained and equipped to help others.