Thousands of animals rescued from California wildfires

Access to the comments Comments
By David K Li and Colin Sheeley  with NBC and Reuters
Animals including horses and donkeys have been evacuated to shelters
Animals including horses and donkeys have been evacuated to shelters   -   Copyright  REUTERS

Thousands of farm animals and pets were moved from Ojai and Malibu, California, by rescue workers on Saturday and Sunday as wildfires raged across the US state.

Videos and photographs shared by the Humane Society of Ventura County showed workers racing to rescue horses, donkeys, pigs and other animals.

The animals were being housed in shelters in Ojai. Photographs posted by rescuers also showed rabbits and smaller pets being relocated.

Deputy director of operations for Los Angeles County Animal Care & Control, Allison Cardona, said about 700 animals — including 550 horses, nine cows and at least one tortoise — are now in her agency's care.

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, 804 kilometres to the north.

Simi Valley resident Dr Bill Matzner, who owns eight horses and regularly boards nine, has taken in 13 more since the Woolsey Fire broke out near his ranch.

"It's been a scary time," Matzner said. "To us, these animals are our children, our family."

With the Woolsey fire headed south and then west toward Malibu, the retired physician said he and the horses are safe for now.

But if winds change directions, he and his ranch hands will have to find a way to shuttle their 30 horses to safety in shifts — with just three trailers which hold a combined total of eight animals.

Meanwhile animal lovers have been volunteering to move four-legged friends to safety.

Dan Sauvageau, a developer from Roseville, California, on Sunday raced 90 minutes north to Magalia in Butte County to help a friend evacuate his family of animals — a cat, a dog, three goats (one of them pregnant) and a donkey.

All the animals were safely evacuated to a farm in Chico. But when locals saw Sauvageau driving a heavy-duty GMC truck and a 14.8-metre-long livestock trailer, they drafted him into pet-saving services.

He picked up 14 more dogs and a cat in his travels, taking them to a makeshift shelter at the Chico airport.

Nine of those dogs were picked up in one stop, when locals told him to check out the Rosewood Drive in Magalia where he found the pack of pooches looking for help.

"They all came out with a big puppy smile, happy to see us and wagging their tails," Sauvageau said.

The 39-year-old home builder had planned to return home on Sunday night but stayed in Butte County on Monday to help rescue more animals.

"I love animals, but more I hate the feeling of hopelessness and helplessness. It's the worst feeling," he said. "Those people down there feel helpless."

More than 200,000 people have been evacuated, including the entire city of Malibu, and at least 150 homes were burned down between the Camp Fire and Woolsey fire.

Authorities said 42 people were killed when the blaze incinerated the town of Paradise in northern California.

California police and firefighters on Monday were sifting through the charred debris of homes destroyed in the most devastating wildfire in the state's history, searching for the remains of 228 missing people.

Video editor • Christophe Pitiot