Here in Arizona we are presently struggling with another monster wildfire, caused by an abandoned campfire. As I post this, the Wallow Fire is rapidly approaching one-half million acres and is weeks from being contained, despite the efforts of 4,100 firefighters from all over the United States. By comparison, the City of Los Angeles covers 318,912 acres. Until this week, the largest wildfire in our state's history was the 2002 Rodeo-Chediski Fire, 461,000 acres.
I grew up in Ohio where we never imagined such a thing. My wife Barbara grew up in Kentucky, like Arizona a heavily forested state. Several days ago she exclaimed, "We never had fires like this in Kentucky!" So these annual summertime conflagrations are eye-openers for us. And they've heightened our awareness of the toll major natural disasters -- earthquakes, tsunamis, hurricanes, tornados, wildfires -- take on animals. In the wakes of such disasters, many are dead, others are orphaned and many are safe because of the near-heroic efforts of folks who care deeply.
In the path of the Wallow Fire, the communities of Alpine, Eager, Greer, Nutrioso, and Springerville were evacuated. Those are rural towns on the eastern edge of Arizona. Hence, they are home to a profusion of animals. With evacuation comes displacement. People and animals need to find someplace else to stay.
By Wednesday evening, June 8, word reached Phoenix that the Wallow fire had attained mega-monster proportions. That evening a group was meeting in the new training center of Villa La Paws, a pet resort and spa. They were planning a "Bowl-A-Rama" fundraising event to benefit homeless animals. The meeting was about to conclude when Bari Mears, founder and president of Phoenix Animal Care Coalition (PACC911) asked for a minute to address the group. PACC911 brings together more than 100 animal welfare organizations in Arizona, creating whole-is-greater-than-the-sum-of-the-parts opportunities to work together for the benefit of animals. Bari Mears is driven, a woman on a mission. Her words that evening set off a stunning effort to assist the animals that had been displaced by the raging fire.
It's difficult to detail the chronology here because everything seems to have happened at once. Much of it coordinated by Tia Sylvis, PACC911's volunteer coordinator.
Before the group left the meeting room that evening,Villa La Paws had volunteered its two Phoenix facilities as staging areas to collect supplies and equipment to be sent "up the mountain."
Sherry Butler, president of Sherry Butler Communications, put out an immediate media blitz. Live interviews began the very next morning on all the major TV stations. The message: the near-desperate need for supplies and medications for the animals that were pouring into the temporary shelters on the fringe of the fire-ravaged area. Things you wouldn't normally think of, like medication for the eyes of animals that had come out of the thick smoke that was suffocating the area.
How many animals were being sheltered? By Saturday evening, there were 75 dogs and 30 cats in an Arizona Humane Society shelter in Show Low. The fairgrounds shelter in St. Johns (the territory of Round Valley Animal Rescue) was housing about 100 cats and 100 dogs. Plus another 60 dogs and cats offsite in a house.
Also at the fairgrounds or offsite at nearby ranches there were 300-plus horses, 250 goats and about 150 rabbits, pigs, emus, ostriches, alpacas, etc. Dr. Laura Harris, a Phoenix equine veterinarian, spent the weekend ministering to that group.
If you're keeping score, that's more than a thousand animals displaced by the fire and needing . . . well, everything.
By Saturday morning, the Villa La Paws staging sites were humming. A steady stream of generous animal lovers were dropping off items as diverse as vaccines, large hard-shell crates, Clorox bleach wipes, stacks of newspapers, dog food, cat food, rabbit food, hay and more hay, cat litter, disposable litter boxes, food dishes, trash bags, stand-up floor fans, collars and leashes. St. Mary's Food Bank (the cradle of the food bank movement in America) donated 3000 pounds of animal food.
People kept showing up with vehicles to transport all that stuff to the shelter areas. That transport generosity was capped off when Tim Dietz, owner of Unique Heavy Recovery, showed up with one of his 18-wheelers. By Saturday evening, it was loaded and on its way.
Then, by late Saturday, the word came that, at least for the present, the need had been met.
Well done, guys! This blog is read by dog sports people all over America, and the racket you hear is the sound of many hands clapping.