Record 2018 fire season isn’t over yet
PARADISE, MALIBU, California––Some good news for animals, habitat, and ultimately humans may yet emerge from the firestorms simultaneously razing the Sierra Nevada foothills city of Paradise and parts of the far distant coastal city of Malibu––if the already record-setting 2018 California wildfire season gives an anticipated boost to beaver restoration efforts up and down the drought-stricken state.
ANIMALS 24-7 will explain much more about that tomorrow.
Paradise descends into inferno
Meanwhile, the human death toll in Paradise rose to 76 on the evening of November 17, 2018, with 1,276 people still missing, almost all of them senior citizens.
Twenty-two cadaver-sniffing dogs and more than 460 law enforcement personnel were sifting the ashes of at least 11,862 burned buildings, 9,700 of them single-family homes, seeking human remains––and occasionally taking heart from discovering surviving animals hiding among the ruins or dazedly wandering at large.
Major news media reported many such stories as relief from documenting the deaths and destruction.
Saved by a fox
But there was also the story of Greg Woodcox, narrated by Evan Sernoffsky of the San Francisco Chronicle. A self-described “mountain person” who lived in his old Jeep Cherokee with two Chihuahuas, Woodcox witnessed the deaths of five friends who waited too long as he urged them to evacuate.
“A fox, he said, scrambled across the road and showed him a path down a steep embankment into a stream, where he stayed submerged for 45 minutes, waiting out the relentless inferno,” Sernoffsky wrote.
Then, Sernoffsky said, Woodcox “hiked up the fire-scarred hillside,” to find his Jeep Cherokee “with the engine still running and his two Chihuahuas, Romey and Jules, alive in the back seat.”
Founded during the California Gold Rush era in the mid-19th century, locally known as Poverty Ridge when transients camped there during the Great Depression, Paradise during the 40 years preceding the firestorm had exploded from a human population of about 8,000 to circa 27,000, largely by attracting retirees with relatively inexpensive housing and low taxes––at least for California.
Officially called the Camp Fire, the blaze that destroyed Paradise was still only 35% contained after burning 135,000 acres.
Woolsey Fire hit two animal sanctuaries
At almost the opposite end of California, the blaze that hit Malibu, called the Woolsey Fire, was a little more than half contained after burning nearly 100,000 acres, destroying at least 504 structures. The Woolsey Fire had officially killed two people and was believed to have killed at least one more.
Information about animal rescue and relief efforts emerged first from the Woolsey Fire area, partly because of the proximity of Malibu to Los Angeles, a global media hub, partly because Malibu was and still is home to countless Hollywood celebrities, and partly because at least two well-known sanctuaries were in harm’s way.
American Tortoise Rescue
American Tortoise Rescue, founded in 1990 by Susan and Marshall Tellem from their home in Malibu, was razed, after surviving many other fires in the nearby hills and often helping other animal rescue organizations to recover.
“Home sweet home,” Susan Tellem posted to Facebook on November 12, 2018, above photographs of the Tellem house ablaze, taken from an ad hoc large animal rescue center set up at Zuma Beach, several blocks away, and of what remained of American Tortoise Rescue after she and Marshall were able to return to look for the animals they had been unable to transport––though they took many––when obliged to flee.
“People asking for help”
“We need to get back in to feed all the animals left behind in western Malibu,” Susan Tellem continued. “People have been asking for help. It’s sinful that we can’t do that as rescuers.
“Our sheep perished,” Susan Tellem mourned, “but surprisingly most turtles survived as did the roosters we rescued years back. One of our sons is sheltering us and we are doing okay,” she said.
“I am trying to get meds for the sick turtles right now,” Susan Tellem added. “The sanctuary took a major hit. Flames tore through and melted everything except the turtle houses, which were fireproof, thank God. The turtles who sheltered in place were more than 90% okay. The chicken houses were melted too, so they had retreated into the turtle houses, but were pretty bedraggled. Can you imagine what they all went through? All the animal rescues and trailers were full. Stressful. Will build a concrete house for us this time around.”
Rescue + Freedom Project
Also hit was the Rescue + Freedom Project, operating since 2010 from just outside Agoura Hills.
“We had to evacuate animals from our Rescue & Outreach Center at four a.m.,” recounted director of advocacy Matt Rossell on November 12, 2018. “We drove across a bridge that is now a smoldering ruin, and straight through the fire as it raged on the hillsides above Highway 101.
“All the animals, including rabbits, chickens, peacocks, dogs, cats and goats are safe,” Rossell reported. “Our onsite caregivers, Kristen and Blues, heroically kept sleepless vigil and safely loaded the animals. With help of staff and volunteers, we got everyone out, and they are now being cared for in an emergency safe house. Kristen probably lost her personal belongings. We don’t know the extent of other damage on the property but likely the new rabbit building is also lost.”
Stanley the Giraffe
Perhaps the best known animal involved in the Woolsey Fire was Stanley the Giraffe, mascot of Malibu Wine Safaris.
“A lot of people expressed concern after hearing Stanley the Giraffe was not evacuated,” reported KABC-Malibu. “As the blaze rushed toward the property, the [Malibu Wine Safaris] owners made a decision to let their animals out into the pasture where there was no fuel to burn.
“We had to determine whether to shelter in place or risk loading into a trailer. And particularly with exotics when you have events like this, it can get out of hand quickly and they can go into shock, and in many cases you have risk of hurting them,” Malibu Wine Safaris spokesperson Dakota Semler said.
Veterinarian Jennifer Conrad, best known as founder of the anti-cat declawing organization The Paw Project, examined Stanley the Giraffe after the fire, explaining to KABC that “Stanley has been my patient since he was about four.”
Pronounced Conrad, “He’s okay.”
Higher in the Woolsey Fire zone, “The Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area posted that GPS data confirms 10 of the 13 known mountain lions [in the reserve] appear to be alive and moving,” reported ABC-7 on November 13, 2018.
“This means that they’re still unsure about three lions: P-74, P-22 and P-42,” ABC-7 explained. “P-74 has a working collar, but P-22 and P-42 only have the ‘VHF’ function. This means they have to be tracked down in person, which cannot be done due to the fire.”
10,000 pets displaced
Allison Cardona, deputy director of operations for Los Angeles County Animal Care & Control, told media that at peak the agency was accommodating about 700 animals displaced by the Woolsey Fire, “including 550 horses, nine cows and at least one tortoise,” summarized David K. Li of the New York Post.
“But she estimated that at least 10,000 more pets have been displaced from the Woolsey and Hill Fires, both near the Ventura-Los Angeles County line, and the Camp Fire in rural Butte County, about 500 miles to the north,” Li continued.
“In neighboring Ventura County, public shelters there had taken in 56 horses, 30 dogs, 25 cats, seven chickens, six rabbits, four goats and a bird,” spokesperson Sheila Murphy told Li.
Actress Sandra Bullock reportedly donated $100,000 to the Humane Society of Ventura County to help with the animal rescue operations.
Camp Fire two hours from Carr Fire zone
The Camp Fire incinerated Paradise less than two hours’ drive, under normal conditions, from the region devastated for six weeks, from July 23, 2018 until August 30, 2018, by the 230,000-acre Carr Fire, and by several smaller wildfires in nearby counties.
Volunteers associated with the Chico-based North Valley Animal Disaster Group and other regional humane organizations were reportedly still looking for animals left at large by the Carr Fire and still fostering animals displaced by the Carr Fire and others, when the Camp Fire raged all the way to the Chico State University campus, about 10 miles north of Paradise.
Many animal charities helped
While the North Valley Animal Disaster Group took the lead in providing emergency sheltering and evacuating animals from fire areas, through prior arrangement with the Federal Emergency Management Administration, many other organizations helped in various ways, reported Bay Area News Group writer Jane Tyska.
Tyska listed the Caring Choices, Wags & Whiskers Pet Rescue, and Butte Humane Society shelters in Chico, the Chico Cat Coalition, VCA Animal Hospitals, the Golden Gate Veterinary Compounding Pharmacy, the Oroville Hope Center, the Northwest SPCA of Oroville, the Horse Plus Humane Society of Bangor, California, and Tony La Russa’s Animal Rescue Foundation’s disaster relief unit.
Paradise Animal Shelter Helpers posted to Facebook on November 10, 2018 that “This will be our last post till further notice,” but was back online helping to reunite animals with their people and distribute emergency supplies within the day.
Added fellow Bay Area News Group reporter Karen D’Souza, “It’s been a marathon for John Madigan, DVM, and the Veterinary Emergency Response Team at the U.C. Davis School of Veterinary Medicine,” headquartered about two hours south of Paradise.
D’Souza detailed “Five days of trying to save the menagerie of pigs, goats, dogs, horses and fish who are being evacuated to the Butte County Fairgrounds in Gridley, where a choking gray smoke hangs in the air and the fire-singed animals never stop coming.”
Said Madigan, “It’s all creatures great and small in here. You don’t know what will get wheeled in next. You do triage all day long. In the office, you have lights and equipment. Out here, when it gets dark, it’s just dark. And then animals start fighting each other and then you worry about diseases spreading. The good part is you’re tired but you don’t feel tired. You don’t feel tired until afterwards.”
Survival stories from koi to horses
D’Souza spotlighted Cowboy 911 rescue volunteer Cassie Porter, who “has sifted through countless burned carcasses in her quest to save one cat, two miniature donkeys and six goats from the rubble in Paradise,” but could only leave water and food for a “five-pound chihuahua who ran off when she tried to grab him.”
D’Souza also described the elation of Paradise resident Scott Lotter, who lost his home but saved koi fish named Charlize, George and Goldie, along with 50 other goldfish, and Richard and Sharron Metcalf, who fleeing ahead of the flames could only leave gates open “so their Arabian horses could run free.”
All eight horses, “including three pregnant mares and two babies,” D’Souza recounted, “came home when the flames died down.”
Check ANIMALS 24-7 tomorrow to find out about the beavers.