Employees and volunteers at the Applegate's Sanctuary One animal care farm have had a singular mission the last couple of days: find temporary homes for the facility's 60 or so furry and feathered denizens, well away from a nearby wildfire.
Residents of the farm at 13195 Upper Applegate Road on Thursday were under a Level 2 — "get set" — evacuation advisory due to the Miller Complex fires' proximity. Farm officials have heeded that advisory, working hard to evacuate the goats, alpacas, ducks, geese, chickens, rabbits, sheep, cats, dogs, pigs and horses under their care.
The Level 2 notice was issued late Wednesday evening after flames crested Billy Mountain in view of valley landowners, according to the U.S. Forest Service.
"They could see the fire cresting the hill and that was our trigger point for the upgrade to Level 2," fire spokeswoman Sierra Hellstrom said Thursday.
By then, Sanctuary One already was on the move.
"We made the decision two days ago to evacuate, to sort of get out a little bit ahead of the curve and get out a little bit early because of the task of getting this many animals off the farm," Brian Kiesse, the farm's operations manager, said Thursday.
And they're almost there.
The group put the word out that the animals were in need of temporary places to stay, which paid off. As of Thursday, almost all had been evacuated from the farm or were awaiting transport, thanks to community residents and some area nonprofits and businesses.
Horses, for example, have gone to the Equamore Horse Sanctuary in Ashland. The Southern Oregon Humane Society took all the facility's dogs, while the Jacksonville Veterinary Hospital took the cats. Most of the animals have gone to private residences.
"It's really comforting to know that so many people care so much about these animals and us," said animal care manager Melissa Hamre. "It's been very smooth, but it's incredibly challenging, because we're trying to get the animals in the best places possible."
The lightning-sparked Miller Complex, burning since Aug. 14, has reached a size of 14,239 acres. On Thursday, it was about 40 percent contained, with three main fire areas. Most threatening to Sanctuary One is the 2,591-acre Burnt Peak fire, located about nine miles southwest of Ruch and about three miles north of Applegate Lake, according to fire officials.
On Thursday morning, flames were reportedly backing down Billy Mountain toward Applegate Road.
It's the first evacuation operation in the farm's history. Sanctuary One officials have tried to visit every property where animals are being taken to make sure they're good fits, as feeding and care will be the responsibility of the volunteer families.
"We do have information sheets that go with all the animals that list the food," Kiesse said. "We're sending the food with them so they can have some continuity with their diet. There are two or three animals that need medication, so we've sent those all."
On Thursday, Sanctuary One volunteer Jennifer Petersen and her husband, Jason, stopped by to pick up Pickles and Gumball, two pigs at the farm. They had recently purchased property in the China Gulch area, closer to Ruch, with terrain and space ready to accommodate the pigs and about 20 goats.
"We've got the area, so we were more than happy to help out," said Jason Petersen.
It took some encouragement — and some food — but after a few minutes, both pigs hopped in the back of the couple's trailer, the gate shutting behind them. The couple planned to return for the goats later.
The collective effort of community members to step up and help has been great to see, Jennifer Petersen said.
"This community, in general, I think is very supportive," she said. "You send up the Bat Signal, and everybody shows up."
— Reach reporter Ryan Pfeil at 541-776-4468 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him at www.twitter.com/ryanpfeil.