The animals and I had to evacuate the sanctuary on 9/11 (is that date now a modern Ides of March?). When I went to bed on Thursday night, the Butte fire was burning an hour’s drive away from me. It seemed unlikely that it would reach us. But it did.
On Friday morning, there was a mass exodus from the Mountain Ranch/Sheep Ranch area. The area around the town of Mountain Ranch had already burned and the fire was headed to Sheep Ranch. The sanctuary property is in that path, so we had to get out, and fast.
Angels appeared to trailer my animals out. Plan A had failed because the town I was going to evacuate to was also under mandatory evacuation (none of us thought that town would be in danger). Many people headed to the foothills from towns way out of fire range, driving their trucks with trailers to help evacuate large animals who might be stranded. My rescuers were among them. (Thank you to Harmony Ranch, a nonprofit in our area, for linking volunteer rescuers with those who needed rescuing.)
Plan B was a miracle. My rescuers drove against the odds to get all my animals safely out. A YouTube interview with my rescuers and me tells the harrowing story. They brought us to the Cowgirl Up Ranch in Burson and housed my three donkeys, two miniature horses, five sheep, two goats, and me for the next three weeks. Merlion and Daisy, the two guardian dogs, went to a neighboring ranch where they had kennel accommodations.
We weren’t the only evacuees. There were many horses, pigs, chickens, and ducks—all rescued from the fire. Donations of feed poured in and many volunteers showed up to help care for all the animals.
Someone said I won the evacuation lottery because many people displaced by the fire were living in tents or, if they were lucky, RVs at the evacuation centers. I had a cottage for me and the 18-year-old cat I was taking care of for a traveling friend. My donkeys and horses were right outside my window, so we were in evacuation camp together. My sheep and goats were in a pasture at the other end of the property, with the ranch’s goats. My ranch hosts were loving generous people who welcomed me into their home. I was truly fortunate. And I have new lifetime friends.
Every morning and evening during evacuation, I fed my animals, the ranch goats, a cow, and some of the rescue horses. The familiar feeding ritual was soothing as I waited to find out whether my house was still standing.
All the roads to my house were closed. It wasn’t until eight days after we were evacuated that I was finally able to get in and see that my house and barn were still there. Large cinders were scattered over the land and pink flame retardant coated some of the gates, fences, trees, and ground. The smell of smoke was strong, of course. But otherwise, the place was as I had left it, unlike the devastated landscape I witnessed on the way in.
The fire had passed through just on the other side of the road from the sanctuary and burned a mile north of us as well. With a change of wind, it would all have been different. Today, as every day since our 9/11 rescue, I am giving prayers of thanks for our safety, for our home, for the firefighters, for all the people who stepped forward to help others, for friends and family, for blessings beyond measure.
At the same time, I find myself crying often. It isn’t always clear to me why I am crying, but I think it is from the trauma of the whole experience and the continued suffering of those who lost their houses, and worse. Mountains of donated food and clothing are there for them, further evidence of the best of human nature. All the caring that shone throughout this disaster is deeply moving. Maybe that is another reason for my tears.