38 animals in 38 minutes: Placerita Nature Center’s fire evacuation plan

Frank Hoffman explains for the camera how Buddy, a raven, was fairly easy to evacuate during the Placerita Fire because of his daily transport to and from his holding area at Placerita Canyon Nautre Center on Sunday. Samie Gebers/The Signal

When Frank Hoffman stepped outside of the Placerita Nature Center on June 25, he could see smoke rising in the distance from the Placerita Fire.

“Here we go again,” Hoffman, a recreation services supervisor, told The Signal on Saturday when he recounted his experience.

“I could tell it was close, the sky was darkening, the clouds were black and brown.”

Fortunately for Hoffman, this wasn’t the center’s first fire.

Hoffman immediately went back inside to start the evacuation for the facility. At the time, children with the Michael Hoefflin Foundation, a non-profit organization that assists children diagnosed with cancer,  were on a field trip to the center.

Hoffman and his team managed to evacuate the group as well as everyone else at the facility.

Then, it was time to prepare 38 live animals for relocation.

“We started moving all of the animals inside to the classroom staging area, preparing for a possible evacuation,” Hoffman said.

After dealing with snakes, hawks, spiders, birds, reptiles and amphibians, the supervisor and his team managed to clear the facility and evacuate 38 animals in 38 minutes.

Frank Hoffman explains the relationship between fire and chaparral for the camera at Placerita Canyon Nature Center on Sunday. Samie Gebers/The Signal

Staff at the nature center are always updating plans and procedures. Animals, number of personnel and other factors are constantly changing at the facility, so Hoffman always emphasizes fire preparedness to his staff.

“We did not have the luxury of time,” he said.  “So we were moving very quickly. In a controlled fashion of course, but very quickly. We’re very happy with that time frame.”

Ensuring that animal inventory lists are updated, staff members are well-trained and that all personnel keep calm in an emergency are what Hoffman believes achieved that 38-minute mark.

By the time he left, shortly after the others evacuated, the fire crept right up to the center’s Walker Cabin.

Luckily, no structures burned.

Last year, the Sand Fire gave the center more time to evacuate, and staff were able to relocate taxidermy, placards and files. However, the fire left a huge impact on the park.

“Our Canyon Trail, our Waterfall Trail and the Los Pinetos Trail are closed indefinitely until park management can deem it safe to walk on,” Hoffman said.

For Hoffman and other volunteers, staff and visitors, Placerita Canyon Nature Center holds special meaning.

“I personally got married here,” Hoffman said. “Maybe it was your first volunteer job, or it was your favorite hiking trails here, the facility has a lot of different meanings for different people.”

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