#SandFire Santa Clarita 2016
[Click here for more pix and video of the animals at Wildlife Waystation and the rescue.]
The night of Friday, July 22, was hot. Plumes of smoke were rising from the east, visible for 14 miles over the Santa Susana Mountains all the way to Chatsworth, my home. By 10 pm the “Santa Su’s” were glowing red from the Santa Clarita fire now dubbed the “Sand Fire.”
Saturday morning, the 23rd, I woke early to check the fire’s status when I saw a shared post from a Sunland/Tujunga Facebook page. The Wildlife Waystation, an exotic animal rescue facility, was under threat from the fire which had shifted overnight. Horse trailers and stake bed trucks were desperately needed to haul out animals.
I posted on my local Chatsworth Facebook page for anyone with a stake bed truck. A few minutes later my neighbor Robert Vinson called to offer his help, though he had no truck. We decided to rent a 12′ stake bed with lift gate from a local Chatsworth truck rental. Within an hour we were driving to Sunland.
Traveling up the winding road to the animal center, we could see flames and smoke rising from several of the rocky outcroppings. It was very intimidating, but we saw police and fire personnel along the route who all seemed calm, so we knew the situation was still under control.
When we pulled into the facility, the first man we saw, one of the animal handling staff, yelled “we have a stake bed: bring up the Tigers!”
Did I hear that right? Robert and I thought we would be transporting raccoons, goats or donkeys, but soon actual, full grown adult sleepy tigers were brought out. [Several of the animals to be transported had been given sedatives by a professional vet to keep them calm.]
At this point I should mention: In case you think that Robert and I were handling any of the big cats, we were not. Professional handlers were managing the animals every step of the way.
The tigers were loaded into our truck. Then 3 large dog crates holding ocelots were put in. The truck wasn’t long enough to carry a 5th animal: an adult male lion, so the ocelots were removed and put in another truck, and a drugged, unconscious full grown, male lion was loaded in. The fire was visible cresting over the hills to the east, so tension was high, but all of the staff and volunteers were incredibly tight and organized getting the animals crated and ready to move.
Many localities of Fire Department personnel and LAPD were on hand to warn us if the fire changed directions or got so close that we had to run for it, but helicopters flying overhead were regularly circling with water drops on the encroaching flames, so the teams loading the animals were able to focus on their tasks without worrying about their safety as well.
A trainer from a sanctuary in Frazier Park was organizing the care and transport of the big cats, and readying the receiving location to provide care for the animals upon arrival.
A third truck was loaded with a black leopard and a lioness. The lead truck, holding the ocelots, was driven by a volunteer from the Frazier Park location so we followed him and caravanned out. Driving down the mountain was a little terrifying as the smoke and flames were very visible and, at times, very close at hand. Getting the trucks safely down the mountain to the 5 freeway gave us all a huge sense of relief as we moved steadily away from the fire.
The slowly waking cats arrived at the receiving location about 90 minutes later. The temperature was approaching 108* in the sun, so the animals were becoming cranky and restive. We moved the vehicles into a shaded hangar where we (yes, we) helped unload the animals. There wasn’t a lot of staff on hand so we all had to chip in to get the animal cages off the vehicles and situated for the arrival of more animals. Fortunately, the cats were still groggy and not very active. Though grumbling, and occasionally roaring, they settled down once their crates stopped moving.
Up until yesterday my experience with animal rescue had been limited to domestic animals, horses, and reptiles, so helping to rescue big cats was a very exciting experience. This was definitely a gold star day for community: people came from all over and coordinated their efforts to help in this dire situation.
To read more about the evacuation, read this article published by KPCC here
Click here for more pix and video of the animals at Wildlife Waystation and the rescue.
all photos © sarahstoneart unless otherwise noted