As a rural residential area, the Timberline neighborhood was full of pets and livestock. When the Tunnel Fire thrashed the area and forced a mass evacuation on Tuesday, all those animals needed places to go.
Some were evacuated safely. Some fled the flames and were lost. By Wednesday afternoon, almost all had been safely sheltered or reunited with their families thanks to a community of animal rescuers.
“The wind was blowing so much that we were going through dust clouds on (Highway) 89 that we couldn’t see through,” said Laney Hoover, volunteer for Northern Arizona Animal Search and Rescue (NAASAR) and Timberline resident who evacuated her home Tuesday.
She’s had to evacuate for fires before, and luckily was one step ahead on Tuesday — she had been packed for a previously planned trip. Still, Hoover found that the pace at which her neighborhood was escalated to the evacuation “Go” order was dizzying.
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“We forgot everything you’d think we’d remember,” Hoover said. “Even though this was our third time through this. We had a mental plan, and still we forgot important things.”
Hoover accidentally left behind medications necessary to the health of her two cats and two dogs. Once she was safely evacuated, Hoover went back to Aspen Veterinary Clinic to refill subscriptions for her pets. They were generous enough to do so.
“It was very kind of them,” she said.
As a person experienced with evacuations, Hoover said her experience highlights just how difficult it is to properly evacuate from a fire with animals. Their needs can become lost in the fray, or worse, animals may smell the smoke, panic and run away.
“This one dog yesterday — Charlie — got scared,” reported Theresa Schumann of NAASAR. “He ran out on 89, a guy hit him. Dog took off running.”
Miraculously, Charlie not only survived a vehicle collision, but was found in “amazing” health Wednesday morning. A majority of the missing animals reported to NAASAR were found on Wednesday, including two donkeys, three dogs and numerous cats. Still missing are two pot-bellied pigs that fled while their owners were evacuating. These are only the animals that have been reported, Hoover said.
A significant number of larger animals, such as horses, sheep and goats, also had to be evacuated Tuesday. Julie Sage of Golden Sage Farms in Doney Park, just south of the burned area, took in 10 horses, two goats, five cats and several of her evacuating neighbors.
“You’d expect it to have been chaos,” Sage said. “But everybody that came in was so helpful.”
Sage reported that other neighbors pitched in to help. Twenty pizzas showed up to feed volunteers and evacuees at the farm. An unnamed man with a water truck came to make sure the animals had enough to drink.
“It was awesome,” Sage said. “I couldn’t have expected any better.”
High Country Humane Society was also forced to evacuate Tuesday. According to Jody Cook, the evacuation went “perfect,” as a similar amount of neighborly support allowed them to empty the shelter in about 45 minutes. Most of the animals went to Coconino Humane Association (CHA), who also served as emergency responders for the county.
Charlotte Peterson fielded the call for CHA to set up an animal evacuation refuge at Fort Tuthill.
The Tunnel Fire exploded Tuesday from 11 to 6,000 acres near the Timberline neighborhood eas…
“When we got the call, I just grabbed my people, grabbed my emergency trailer, and we were there,” Peterson said. Not even immediate action was enough to keep up with the ravaging pace of the Tunnel Fire. “Horses were already starting to come before we even got in.”
CHA is now harboring 25 horses and a couple dozen sheep at Fort Tuthill. Peterson said most owners have come to feed and care for their animals throughout the day.
Some animals sustained injury in the process of evacuation. She pointed to one horse who had cuts on her back legs from panicking while getting into the trailer.
“Fire burned down their fence and the fence was falling as [the horses] were getting loaded,” Peterson said. “They had to strap her from behind and shove her in.”
Peterson said incidents like this demonstrate the need for practicing evacuation.
“I always tell people, especially livestock owners, practice with your horse. Practice, because a lot of times horses may not be in a trailer for two years,” she said. “And now all of a sudden a fire comes through and you’ve got smoke, and the horse doesn’t want to get in the trailer. That’s where you get your injuries.”
The number of animal lives lost in the Tunnel Fire is currently unknown. Peterson shared unverified reports of horses that had not been evacuated successfully and likely perished. Schumann also reported that a horse had been trapped behind fire lines on Brandis Way.
“Doney Park water employees were using their own fire extinguishers to keep the fire away from this horse,” Schumann said. “We still have not heard of how that horse has been.”
As for the animals that have been safely found and evacuated, Schumann is grateful for every reunion, especially in the cases of family’s who lost their homes.
Schumann said pets and other animal companions may be “all they have left.”
To report a missing or found animal, contact Schumann and NAASAR at (928)-606-4949, or visit the Lost and Found Pets of Flagstaff Arizona Facebook page.
Gallery: Tunnel Fire continues to grow northeast of Flagstaff