US Lethal fires drive horses, dogs, even llamas to safety

10:41  13 october  2017
10:41  13 october  2017 Source:   USA TODAY SPORTS

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Luisa Solomon, a volunteer, helps veterinarian Mike O'Conner feed a horse at the Sonoma County Fairgrounds on Wednesday, Oct. 11.© Amber Sandhu/USA TODAY Network Luisa Solomon, a volunteer, helps veterinarian Mike O'Conner feed a horse at the Sonoma County Fairgrounds on Wednesday, Oct. 11.

NAPA, Calif. — Evacuees from the fires raging in the Sonoma and Napa valleys arrived at shelters leading dogs, carrying cats in crates and often with birds, chinchillas and other exotic pets in cages.

Most shelters feature rooms set aside for pets, with dogs and cats carefully separated. But it’s not just hamsters. Horses, llamas, chickens, goats and pigs are also streaming out of fire areas with their owners.

Horses are most difficult to house. The fires crossed into Solano County northeast of San Francisco on Tuesday and dozens of horses are now being housed at the Solano County Fairgrounds. They’re being housed in the barns that once held up to 1,000 horses during races held during the county fair. Those ended in 2009 and the barns are slated for destruction next year, but were thankfully available for those in need this week.

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In Napa County cows munched, seemingly contented, in the few spots of unburned grass in their grazing fields. Whether they had been moved during the actual fires and then returned to the fields later or somehow made it through on their own wasn’t known.

In Glen Ellen in Sonoma County, Kevin Kress, 43, kept pygmy goats. His family evacuated as the fire engulfed their small neighborhood Sunday night. He returned to find his house still standing and most of his goats still alive.

“I don’t know how they made it through. You can see over there, the black places on the ground are where their pens were. But they survived, though some of them had pretty bad burns. We got them out on Monday,” he said.

Dogs here, cats there

In San Rafael, Maritza Miranda, 26, got out of their home in Santa Rosa just ahead of the fire early Monday morning, with her parents and their two dogs, Wesley and Sophia. She sat in the Dog Evacuee room at the Marin Center, petting them. “They keep me calm,” she said. “We don’t know if we lost our house but they keep me calm.”

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At least 10 other dogs were also housed in the room, some curled up with their owners, others in crates. Bowls of dog treats and piled bags of donated dog food filled one corner, and a large plastic sheet had been put down where water bowls were on offer.

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Next door was the cat room, where over a dozen cats were being cared for by their owners and volunteers. Several entranced little girls cooed over at least three kittens whose mother looked on calmly.

Burned deer running in ash

Wild animals, too, are being caught up in the fire. In some areas near fires, injured deer could be seen stumbling along in the ash, at least one running itself into a wire fence over and over, seemingly unable to stop. Some of the deer had clear singe marks on their fur.

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Elsewhere, burned squirrels ran in circles or dragged along the ground, despite the presence of nearby trees.

People who come upon injured wild animals should not try to directly assist the animal but instead call law enforcement, who will contact the proper agencies to care for the animal, said Jim Myers, a veterinarian with Sonoma Marin Veterinary Services

“They’ll resolve to get them handled,” he said.

More than 300 of the stables at Sonoma County Fairgrounds were being used to house multiple animals on Wednesday. The fairgrounds welcomed horses, cows, goats, ducks, chickens, dogs and donkeys evacuated as the fire moved closer to their owner’s properties.

Animals left behind

However, some animals had to be left behind.

Luisa Solomon, 23, said the fire was about 300 yards away when she and her family quickly gathered their 32 horses to get them to the fairgrounds. But their 20 cows had to stay behind.

She said was going to check on them Thursday if authorities let her through. She said the cows don’t have water because there's no one to pump it for them. "But they should be fine,” she said.

About 25 horses from Cloverleaf Ranch, a stable in the Santa Rosa community that provided horse boarding, sleepaway camp, and riding classes, were housed at the fairgrounds.

Georgia Hellum-Willits, a volunteer and former riding instructor at the 160-acre ranch, said nothing of it remains but a hay barn and a few cabins.

“Everything is burned,” she said.

Five other horses from Cloverleaf when to a private property, and two died in the fire, she said.

Jim Myers, a veterinarian with Sonoma Marin Veterinary Services, assessed one of the Cloverleaf horses, named Jack, who had a puncture wound in his leg, which may have come from running into a fence, he said.

Nearby, another horse from the ranch, Tucker, was singed by the fire and covered in ointment. He stood still in his stable, wary of visitors.

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