Efforts launched to rescue, reunite animals lost in Valley fire
CALISTOGA — In Calistoga, amid the collection of sorrows, relief, frustrations and worries that makes up the primary Valley fire evacuation center, animals are everywhere.
They are a comfort to their owners, many of whom were stripped by the fire of nearly all else and are now sheltered in various stages of disarray at the Napa County Fairgrounds.
“It means everything, they’re our babies,” said Cristi Garner, 41. The fire destroyed the Anderson Springs home where she lives with her mother, she said. On Monday, she sat away from a damp breeze, in a crowded tent with her mother and Zoe and Maximus, a chihuahua and a chihuahua mix.
Along with about 500 people, more than 300 dogs, cats, horses, cows, pigs and goats are now temporarily lodged at the fairgrounds, according to animal care workers.
But the animals are also a painful reminder of those that were left behind in the rush to flee a rampaging fire that has consumed 62,000 acres of Lake County and killed a woman in Anderson Springs.
Seated beneath the canopy outside their mobile home on Monday, in a field of similarly weary evacuees, Charles Clevenger and his wife felt both relief and worry. They escaped with eight dogs but had to leave three horses, a dog and about 40 chickens behind, Clevenger said.
“We had to get out too fast to find them,” he said.
“Our home is gone,” added his wife, Donna Clevenger, 56.
The Clevengers are among an unknown number of Lake County residents who in the rush of evacuation couldn’t round up their pets or, in the case of larger animals, fit them all in trailers.
The couple — who said they escaped with flames practically at their heels — have heard the dog they left behind is fine, but have no idea if their horses survived.
“I raised them from colts,” Donna Clevenger’s mother, Fran Leigh, 74, said of the horses, which were in a 30-acre paddock when the fire rushed in. “They’re as much family as anybody’s pet dog. They come when I call them.”
Across the field, Dave Leary, 71, and his wife Dolores, 56, rested under a tree, their dogs and a cat nearby, and with the fresh memory of having to leave their two horses behind.
As the flames approached, their mustang and American Paint gelding broke through a pasture fence and had fled by the time Leary’s wife Dolores, 56, rushed to get them.
“You can’t do anything about it, you just have to go,” said Dave Leary about leaving the animals.
“They’re resilient,” said his wife, hoping for the best.
On Monday, with the first rush of pets and livestock under good care, attention turned to those animals left behind in the fire zone, especially horses, of which Lake County has hundreds.
“Middletown is big horse country,” said Pam Ingalls, president of Wine Country Animal Lovers in Calistoga, one of four nonprofit animal welfare groups leading the task of caring for the evacuees’ animals. Enough donated food and other supplies poured in during the first day of the emergency to sustain all the animals that came with evacuees, she said.
“The second wave now is getting the supplies up there, and getting it up there is going to take manpower and resources,” said Jeff Charter, executive director of Petaluma Animal Services, who was also working at the fairgrounds on Monday.