SANTA CLARITA >> As the Sand fire continued scorching through brush in Santa Clarita with “freight train” force, the flames and smoke not only sent hundreds of human residents scattering to seek safety, but also forced the evacuations of a large number of pets and large animals, from horses to grizzly bears.
In addition to the many horses that had to be evacuated from equestrian neighborhoods as a result of the fire Saturday, and continuing Sunday, the denizens of the Wildlife Waystation along Little Tujunga Canyon Road were also evacuated from their forest home Saturday in advance of the approaching flames, Los Angeles County sheriff’s officials said.
Evacuated residents’ large animals such as horses were first being accepted at the Hanson Dam. But after that location reached capacity, officials set up a second facility to accept evacuated large animals at Pierce College, 6201 Winnetka Ave. in Woodland Hills.
The wide array of animals great and small housed at the wildlife sanctuary ranges from birds and hedgehogs to alligators, lions, wolves, a grizzly bear and even a lion-tiger hybrid known as a Liger.
Though the animal sanctuary was not out of harms way Sunday afternoon, “We’re a whole lot less concerned than 14 hours ago, 18 hours ago,” Wildlife Waystation spokesman Jerry Brown said.
A breeze was pushing the fire toward the north, away from the Wildlife Waystation, on Sunday afternoon, but toward the communities of Acton and Agua Dulce.
The Sand fire, which ignited Friday afternoon, has since scorched more than 22,000 acres, or 34 square miles, and destroyed 18 homes, damaging one more. Firefighters discovered a man’s body inside a burned car in the evacuation area in the 26700 block of Iron Canyon road, within the evacuation zone, late Saturday, according to Los Angeles County sheriff’s Deputy Juanita Navarro Suarez. The man’s identity and cause of death were yet to be determined.
The wildfire grew in size overnight, storming over a canyon ridge, “like freight train,” Los Angeles County Fire Department Deputy Chief John Tripp said Sunday morning.
Wildlife Waystation staff and volunteers evacuated more than 70 percent of the more than 400 wild animals from the sanctuary by Saturday night, Brown said. Small animals and birds, which are more susceptible to respiratory problems due to smoke, were evacuated first. Large animals such as lions and tigers were also evacuated, though some remained at the Wildlife Waystation Sunday.
All the animals were safe and accounted for, Brown said.
The displaced exotic animals were taken in by friendly area colleagues with appropriate facilities.
After 40 years in operation, the Wildlife Waystation has made quite a few friends, he said.
“Animal people take care of animal people.”
More people than could be used showed up to try and help evacuate the threatened animals as the fire approached on Saturday, Brown said.
“There was a tremendous turnout, a tremendous number of people coming up with trucks, trailers and animal carriers,” he said.
He thanked the community for their support.
“People love to help, and people love to help the waystation,” he said.
And the need for assistance will remain even after the flames of the Sand fire are long extinguished, Brown said.
“This was an expensive operation. The Wildlife Waystation is a charity,” he said.
In addition to the expense of the fire response, the facility also needs to continue caring for the animals 24 hours a day.
“It’s an expensive proposition under normal circumstances,” Brown said.
To learn more about the Wildlife Waystation and its animals, or to make a donation, visit www.wildlifewaystation.org.
Additionally, the Sun Valley-based Reptacular Animals petting zoo was forced to evacuate it’s more than 500 animals from the zoo’s Angeles National Forest Ranch.
“All our animals are evacuated to various residential places that aren’t setup for short term care of these animals,” Reptacular representatives said in a written statement. “Mandatory evacuations are still in full effect. We are not allowed to the return to the ranch for supplies.”
Zoo staff reached out to the community for supplies to help care for the animals until they are able to return home.
“We are currently just asking for donations of veggies, greens, animal shavings/Carefresh, paper towels, food for bunnies/g pigs/chickens/ducks, newspaper, bird food, animal carriers to help keep the animals situated for now as all of our materials had to be left behind. We are managing. But any help is appreciated.
We are currently just asking for donations of Veggies, greens, animal shavings/care fresh, paper towels, food for bunnies/goats/pigs/chickens/ducks, newspaper, bird food (and) animal carriers to help keep the animals situated for now as all of our materials had to be left behind,” according to the statement. “We are managing. But any help is appreciated.”
A Paypal account been established to help Reptacular Animals at www.paypal.me/Reptacular. For more information on Reptacular Animals, visit www.reptacularanimals.com.
PHOTO: Animal handlers try to capture a pair of wolves at the Wildlife Waystation so that they can be evacuated. Tujunga, CA. July 23, 2016. (Photo by John McCoy/So Cal News Group)