When an enormous wildfire enveloped an area of California in July 2016, hundreds of animals in a rescue station were placed in mortal danger. But a simple online rallying call soon led to hundreds of people volunteering to help out – with little concern for the personal cost. Indeed, this tale of a community coming together for the good of the animal kingdom will warm your heart.
The flames of the devastating fire that ravaged Santa Clarita was dubbed the “Sand Fire,” and it first began fanning its way around the state on Friday, July 22. It would eventually consume more than 37,000 acres of land.
After all, strong winds and high temperatures had created the perfect conditions for the wildfire to spread. And spread it did: the 112-degree inferno raged from an area 40 miles north of Los Angeles, on Antelope Valley Freeway.
Consequently, around 20,000 people had to be evacuated from the area, with 18 homes incinerated by the flames. Tragically, it is thought that one man also lost his life to the fire, which at its peak spread to an area larger than the city of San Francisco.
Fortunately, by July 26 some 3,000 firefighters had managed to contain a quarter of the conflagration. However, its enormous size, combined with the dry conditions and difficult landscape, presented them with a tough task.
But they weren’t the only ones affected badly by the blaze. Indeed, the Wildlife Waystation, a 40-year-old rescue home for creatures great and small located in southern California, was severely up against it.
The Waystation is situated across 160 acres in the Angeles National Forest – the north-western edges of which the Sand Fire first tore through. Horses, lions, wolves and a grizzly bear were among the animals threatened by the inferno.
So an evacuation was urgently needed, but transporting animals isn’t quite as easy as asking humans to leave an area. In fact, with such large animals involved, the task facing Wildlife Waystation was huge.
Therefore, the sanctuary’s desperate staff turned to social media for help. And, heartwarmingly, the center’s original Facebook post received an outpouring of support, with dozens of people almost immediately volunteering their assistance.
In fact, the post received over 700 shares and 150 comments. The people of Santa Clarita were, it seemed, determined to make sure the animals got all the assistance they needed. One commenter, Heather Barclay, said, “If there is anything we can do to help, please let us know.” She also volunteered to send a donation to the sanctuary.
Clearly encouraged by the offers of support, Wildlife Waystation published more Facebook posts over the course of the day. This time, however, it asked for more specific means of assistance.
For instance, one post called for anyone with a trailer to help evacuate the animals. Another appealed for an air-conditioned warehouse to keep the displaced animals cool, while a third made an urgent request for veterinary staff.
The results were beyond belief, with hundreds of people pledging their time, skills and resources to assisting the animals’ evacuation. In fact, more people turned out to help than were needed.
Wildlife Waystation’s Jerry Brown told Los Angeles Daily News, “There was a tremendous turnout, a tremendous number of people coming up with trucks, trailers and animal carriers. Animal people take care of animal people.”
Prior to the fire, the sanctuary housed over 400 wild animals. The night after the blaze first broke out, 70 percent had been successfully evacuated – from a grizzly bear at one end of the scale to hedgehogs at the other.
Many of the animals were taken to a facility at Pierce College in Woodland Hills. Staff members also took in some of the more exotic creatures, provided, of course, that they had the necessary facilities to take care of them.
Saving these animals wasn’t a risk-free activity, however, with the fire still proving menacing. One volunteer, Sarah Stone, posted on Facebook, “People who didn’t know each other at all came together to help. Everyone was afraid (flames, smoke, it was scary out there) and sweating and tense, but so many people chipped in because help was needed.”
The next day, Wildlife Waystation staff had some good news to share: the firefighters working to control the blaze had managed to save the facility. The remainder of the animals yet to be evacuated were judged to be safe, with no need to leave.
As a result, plans are underway to bring the rest of the displaced animals back to the sanctuary when it is safe to do so. Until then, staff are working tirelessly to ensure that the facility is cleaned as thoroughly as possible.
While the battle against wildfires continues, the fight for the lives of 400 animals has been won. Wildlife Waystation’s staff will no doubt be forever grateful for the courage and generosity shown by the local community, without whom the unthinkable might have happened.