SANTA ROSA, Calif. – The Sonoma County Fairgrounds in Santa Rosa has become a refuge for farm animals, with up to 300 horses, sheep, goats, alpaca and various other species waiting out the Wine Country fires with their owners.
Throughout Tuesday, a stream of cars and trucks dropped off bales of hay to feed the animals; one woman showed up with huge bags of carrots and apples she brought from the supermarket.
The staff of Belos Cavalos, a nonprofit that provides animal therapy to trauma survivors, had to evacuate its Kenwood facility early, moving the 28 horses into trailers in the middle of the night. Some of the horses were hard to find during the evacuation because they were inside temporary shelters that had collapsed in the wind.
‘’It was intense. The wind was really strong. There were ashes flying everywhere,’’ said general manager Jose Angel Contreras. They managed to take 18 of the horses down to a facility in Woodside, while the other 10 are in the Sonoma County Fairgrounds.
About 30 more horses arrived at the fairgrounds from Cloverleaf Ranch, a boarding facility near Santa Rosa’s Fountaingrove neighborhood, one of the worst hit by the fire.
The fire had come so quickly that the staff wasn’t able to evacuate all of its horses from its ranch, and instead had to release them into a pounded-earth arena where they hoped they would be safe, said Lucia Tropeano, who boards her horse, Lola, at the facility.
“It was awful that we couldn’t get to them. I didn’t know if any of the horses were OK,’’ said Tropeano, who was frantic with worry until Tuesday afternoon when someone texted her a photo of Lola, letting her know she was safe and heading to the fairgrounds. In the process, Lola got stress-induced colic and Tropeano is looking for pasture to house her.
It turned out that most of the Cloverleaf horses survived, even as the buildings burned down around them; the horses were later fed and watered by firefighters who arrived at the scene. Two horses, however, escaped during the fire and were burned to death.
Some ranchers prefer not to bring their animals to evacuation centers if they can avoid it, because of concern over exposure to disease from other animals, as well as stress, said Marie Hoff, co-owner of Capella Grazing Project in Potter Valley in Mendocino County.
“Going to one of those places puts you at a risk,’’ Hoff said, making it a tough choice between risking fire or sickness.
The property Hoff and her partner own is about two blocks from the evacuation zone of the Redwood Valley fire and they moved their 20 sheep north to stay with family in Red Bluff in Tehama County. Because they hire out the sheep to graze properties, they already have trailers they can use to transport them.
Hoff said that smoke can give pneumonia to sheep, which is another reason they fled from the fire. One of her rams who was in Santa Rosa is suffering from it now.
‘’We’re monitoring him and we’re hoping he can pull through,’’ she said. “Just moving him puts him at further stress.’’
Not all animal owners have had the option of shelters.
As flames erupted at Bella Quercia Vineyard on Atlas Peak Road late Sunday night, Sammy and Lolly ran. Sammy and Lolly are cattle horses — one black and one brown. On the night the Atlas Fire began tearing through the Napa hills, ranch employee Pepe Tamayo set them loose.
Ten-foot tall flames were lapping at his house, he said, but he knew he had to save the animals. So he told his wife to leave as he sprinted toward the horses to let them go.
“It happened so quickly,’’ Tamayo said.
Two days later, he found the horses back on the ranch. They were thirsty and tired. They hadn’t eaten in two days.
He led the horses out of the scorched ranch, where structures — like his home — had been reduced to ash. He was greeted by a couple down the road. They had waited out the fires on their ranch, which still had water, its fences still intact.
Tamayo led the horses into a cattle pen. They made a beeline for the water trough.