During the Sand Fire, hundreds of animals—from dogs and cats to horses and goats—were evacuated from affected areas by emergency response personnel.
Both Los Angeles County and the city of Santa Clarita, recommend that residents take their pets with them when they evacuate their homes; however, sometimes animals get left behind or are unable to be transported during emergencies.
In times like these, the county and city relies on animal rescue teams and organizations to save household pets and livestock and transport them to evacuation shelters or County of Los Angeles Care Centers.
Los Angeles County Department of Animal Care and Control
During an emergency, like a wildfire or mudslide, the Los Angeles County Department of Animal Care and Control works to protect public safety, provide control of animals, offer temporary shelter for displaced animals and create a system to reunite animals with their owners.
The department has developed plans for dealing with emergencies that include community outreach efforts and finding predetermined locations for livestock housing depending on the circumstances of the emergency, according to Don Barre, public information officer for Los Angeles County Department of Animal Care and Control.
“Our Department’s response is different from other animal welfare agencies in the region, in that we have the advent of sheltering companion animals near their owners at a human sheltering location (colocation) with the addition of the AnimalSafe trailers to our fleet of vehicles,” Barre said.
Barre said the Sand Fire was the largest sheltering operation in the department’s history because of the unpredictable nature and direction of the fire, which impacted different communities with varying animal response needs.
“Because of the unique characteristics of the fire we ended up opening three livestock shelters and two colocation sites for companion animals,” Barre said. “Running five sheltering operations 24 hours a day was very tasking on our staffing levels, so we brought in our department volunteers, Equine Response Team (ERT) volunteers and mutual aid partners.”
For the department and county, the Sand Fire response highlighted the importance of animal evacuation plans and community preparedness to safely remove animals during wildfires.
“The Department successfully evacuated and cared for over 800 animals during the Sand Fire,” Barre said. “It should be stated that the department could have not been as successful if the community wasn’t as prepared. It truly is and will continue to be a collaborative effort.”
In the event of an emergency, the Los Angeles County Department of Animal Care and Control recommends that residents prepare in advance by using the county’s Emergency Survival Guide.
City of Santa Clarita
If a wildfire like the Sand Fire strikes, animal evacuations and rescues will be under the authority of the Los Angeles County Department of Animal Care and Control, according to Donna Nuzzi, the city’s recreation and community services supervisor.
However, as a partner agency, the city works to prepare residents before disasters by sharing tips and messages about animal preparedness.
“Our biggest messaging, especially with large animals, is be ready to get them out, don’t wait because it is quite challenging,” Nuzzi said. “A lot of people are going to be evacuating at the same time and it takes a lot of time and effort.”
Nuzzi said residents should not wait until they receive the evacuation order to leave their homes because it is unknown how animals will respond in traumatic situations.
“Head to the warnings and get them out in advance,” Nuzzi said.
The city also recommends that residents assemble an emergency kit for animals and an emergency “barn card” for horses and livestock.
“It’s another volatile season and people need a heightened level of awareness of what to be prepared for,” Nuzzi said.
In September, The Gentle Barn announced the addition of an Emergency Command Center to its animal rescue services to help save animals’ lives during a crisis.
Co-Founder Jay Weiner told the Signal in September that the trailer is made to help coordinate between volunteers, officials and residents during a disaster through a central communications system.
“The job of this trailer is to be strategically placed in a fire camp or disaster zone where it would be relaying information to other vehicles,” Weiner said.
The trailer also assists in organizing evacuation services for domestic animals, large animals and farm animals with local fire, sheriff and animal control agencies.
“Our purpose here is to support the government emergency services in areas where there might be gaps,” Weiner said.
In addition to the Emergency Command Center, the Gentle Barn’s emergency and animal rescue services include: emergency animal evacuation, rescue transport, free limited board, feed and water, and access to a network of volunteers.
Its response vehicles include a 40-foot trailer, two horse trailers and the Emergency Command Center trailer.
During an emergency, volunteers with the Gentle Barn use radios to communicate with the central command center and use their own trailers to evacuate animals.
“If there was a disaster or fire, we have handheld radios that we distribute to volunteers that work with us in the field,” he said.
These volunteers are trained by the Gentle Barn and taught how to work with animals, like horses, during a high-stress situation when animals might be skittish, scared or ornery.