San Diego fire

SAN DIEGO, CA - SEPTEMBER 09: San Diego Humane Society's emergency response team member, corporal humane officer Clint Ganus (left) holds a gate open for resident Pierre Nowak (right) carrying a freshly filled jug of water for his horse Diesel (left) in Lawson Valley on Wednesday, Sept. 9, 2020 in San Diego, CA. (Eduardo Contreras / The San Diego Union-Tribune/TNS)

SAN DIEGO – Sherry Moland spent part of Wednesday afternoon at Iron Oak Canyon Ranch in Spring Valley, Calif., with her adopted 8-year-old horse, Whisper, tending to the horse's physical and emotional needs.

As Moland put salve on the horse's hooves, stroked her mane and fed her some fresh hay in the hazy sunshine off Campo Road, she said her home is not in the fire zone at present but she wasn't taking any chances. She remembered well going through the Harris Fire in 2007, just a few months after moving into her Campo home.

She said on Monday she called the San Diego Humane Society about a pickup and the San Diego County Department of Animal Services picked Whisper up and brought her to safety.

The Humane Society's Emergency Response Team has been working in the field with Animal Services, evacuating animals and bringing them to safety. The partnership ensures that there is a coordinated response for those in need and that the resources of both groups are deployed efficiently.

Although Moland's home thus far has been spared, she said she knows well how the wind could change and send embers her way.

"We're on standby for evacuation," Moland said. "We live in a fire zone, it's going to happen, just be prepared."

Whisper is one of more than 50 animals currently housed at Iron Oak Canyon Ranch, brought by residents who have been evacuated during the fire like Moland, are preparing for a worst-case scenario. She said unless something changes with the fire, she plans to keep Whisper there until Saturday or Sunday.

Whisper is in good company, with several other horses, more than two dozen alpacas, some goats, chickens and turkeys. The private boarding ranch, formerly known as Bright Valley Farms, is lending its barrel racing arena to the San Diego Humane Society, which has been working with Animal Services to provide shelter, food and water to animals in its care.

Kelly Campbell, director of Animal Services, said between the groups, they are caring for more than 300 animals – from large animals like horses to dogs and cats – at temporary emergency boarding shelters in Lakeside at the Rodeo Grounds and at El Capitan High, at the county's main shelter in Bonita and at the Iron Oak Canyon site.

Campbell said that if reports for CalFire over the next few nights show that the fire is being contained, and it is safe to do so, the sites will close and people will be able to take their animals home.

Animal Services and the Humane Society are partnering together to help not only animals in their care, but also going behind the fire lines to care for animals as part of "shelter in place." Their dispatch teams are sharing a Google Document, which keeps a working, live track of addresses impacted during the fire and the individual needs of animals that were not evacuated.

"Any animal that's stuck on property owners can't get there or they can't leave and come back and are behind fire lines, they are going in and they're taking care of the animals," said John Peaveler, administrative lieutenant of Emergency Services for the San Diego Humane Society.

With the electricity still off and some homeowners' pumps depending on power for water, the Humane Society's truckloads of water were a welcome sight for those people in the fire zone who didn't evacuate.

Sometimes it's even just the little things that make a big difference. On Wednesday, a pet turtle had flipped on its backside in his cage, and a member of the Humane Society team was able to flip him him back over.

The COVID-19 health emergency has presented some issues that hadn't been a concern during other fires over the years. While the ranch in Spring Valley lets people visit and mingle with their animals, "as long as they don't sleep here," Peaveler said, the county has other rules in place.

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