OC Rescues Thousands of Homeless Animals

Martin Ertl and his eight-months-pregnant wife loaded their car with animal-care supplies collected in Las Vegas, departed from their home in Nevada and headed toward Costa Mesa, Calif. after learning about the fires in Orange County. Their mission, as well as that of hundreds of other volunteers, was to help the animals that were affected by the fires.
The Santiago fires first sparked on Sunday, Oct. 21. As of now, 90 percent of the fires have been contained. The Santiago fires burned a total of 28,400 acres on the Irvine Ranch, damaging mainly Hicks Canyon, Limestone Canyon and Loma Ridge.
The effects of the fires have displaced hundreds of pets from their homes. Because evacuees cannot bring their pets to evacuation sites, various centers throughout Orange County have opened their doors to provide a home for the pets.
‘The Orange County Fairgrounds has been an evacuation site for animals. This is the third time in the last two years, but this is the biggest one [in terms of the number of animals brought in],’ said Richard Groscost, manager of Safety and Security at the OC Fairgrounds. The OC Fairgrounds is one of the few sites that accepts both large and small animals. At its peak during these past two weeks, the OC Fairgrounds had 128 horses, 26 chickens, 12 goats, llamas, sheep, donkeys and other animals.
Other evacuation sites in Orange County include El Toro High School, Orange County Animal Shelter, Los Alamitos Race Track, which accepts only horses, and the Industry Hills Expo Center, which accepts large animals.
‘There have been so many animals evacuated. Del Mar Race Track had 2,400 horses. Their facility is massive, but even they asked if they could bring some horses here,’ Groscost said. ‘We may not have room in our stalls, but we’ll never turn animals away.’
The animal evacuation centers would not be possible without the assistance of volunteers and the generosity of others. On the first few days following the fire, dozens of people flocked to the OC Fairgrounds to lend a hand.
‘Volunteers will do anything. There are kids, those that are retired [and] everyone in between,’ Ertl said. ‘It’s amazing. I’ve never seen such a sense of community.’
Businesses such as El Pollo Loco and Starbucks provided food for the volunteers. Kingston Horse Supplies also donated fly masks for horses and its workers personally strapped a mask onto each horse.
In addition, an anonymous source gave $1,000 to be used however it can help the evacuated animals.
‘I just can’t believe it. They’re calling us, we’re not calling them,’ said Jani Walker, who temporarily lives onsite to care for the horses.
The animals at the OC Fairgrounds have all been claimed. There are currently a few dozen horses still at the site because many owners are not ready to bring them home. If everything runs smoothly, the evacuation site will close in approximately one week.
The Santiago fires have also displaced wildlife from their natural habitats. The fires’ effect on wildlife, however, is uncertain because the area is closed off until the fire is completely under control.