Two snakes and one iguana died when the Whittier Fire raged through the grounds of Rancho Alegre Saturday afternoon, July 8. Ten staff members were able to escape with four cats by literally stepping through flames of the encroaching fire, said Scout Executive Carlos Cortez for the Los Padres Boy Scouts Council. The council, which owns the ranch, operates The Outdoor School, a residential science program, during the school year and a sleepaway Boy Scout camp in the summer. The staff hopes that their beloved pet tortoise, which had just been released, was able to survive by burrowing into the ground.
Meanwhile, at nearby Saint Francis Ranch, six zebras and 12 rare Watusi cattle were spared. “Saint Francis must have been looking down on us,” said ranch owner Alexandra Geremia, who was in Santa Ynez when she got news of a brush fire at Camp Whittier. Given no time to evacuate, employees moved the zebras and cattle to a patch of grassless pasture, hoping the fire would not find any fuel there to burn. It worked. The animals “stayed very calm, as if they knew what to do,” said Geremia. “We were very lucky.”
As the fire grew to 7,800 acres on Saturday night and threatened to crest the Santa Ynez Mountains, a number of large and small animals fell under the evacuation order. Working with the Santa Barbara Humane Society and the Santa Barbara Equine Assistance and Evacuation Team, S.B. County Animal Services housed four horses at the Earl Warren Showgrounds, two in stables at UCSB, and one at the Humane Society, according to Animal Services Director Jan Glick. The Humane Society had also taken in eight cats, four dogs, four birds, and one guinea pig.
Meanwhile, in the vicinity of the Alamo Fire near Santa Maria, Animal Services and the Santa Maria Valley Humane Society have sheltered five goats, 39 dogs, and 27 cats. Horse Emergency Evacuation Team (HEET) volunteers from San Luis Obispo are tending four horses that were evacuated to the Elks Rodeo grounds.
Rumors that Santa Barbara’s Earl Warren Showgrounds would not accept evacuated horses due to the Santa Barbara National Horse Show are false, according to its CEO, Scott Grieve. The Showgrounds had been accepting evacuated horses all weekend and “will not turn any horse away,” he said. During the Jesusita Fire, the Showgrounds stabled 140 horses, according to Grieve, and there are far more stalls than that still available. “We will bend over backward to help out,” he added, asking horse owners to give advance notice by calling 687-0766.
One volunteer recounted the challenge of evacuating four county-owned and three recently adopted horses for the Horse Project, an initiative of the S.B. County Animal Care Foundation, which rescues and rehabilitates abused horses. Several horses had to be sedated before they could be transported. “They were picking up on the danger long before we were.”
Glick urged large animal owners: “When you get the warning, get your animals out.”