Update – December 4, 2018
Some residents are beginning to return to their Northern California communities, or what’s left of them, three weeks after the deadly Camp Fire charred Paradise and nearby cities and towns. Becky Robinson, president and founder of Alley Cat Allies, was on the scene helping animals and caregivers at a temporary evacuation animal shelter nearby.
Watch this video to learn how Alley Cat Allies’ disaster response work is vital to saving animals’ lives, and support our work.
Original Post – November 14, 2018
Becky Robinson, president and founder of Alley Cat Allies, drove into a thick haze of smoke on Monday to get to a shelter helping cats and people affected by the deadliest wildfire in California’s history. The wildfire ripped through the rural town of Paradise and spread across hills and valleys to the city of Chico in Northern California. Authorities say the fire is only 35 percent contained. Across the state, three other fires are raging in Southern California.
Wearing specialized N95 particulate dust mask respirators, Robinson and Alley Cat Allies staff delivered carloads of supplies to a cat evacuation shelter run by nonprofit animal welfare organization FieldHaven Feline Center. The group turned Whiteaker Hall in Yuba City, just south of where the Camp Fire continues to burn, into the makeshift shelter. Robinson provided expert guidance and assistance to the shelter staff and volunteers, hauled in supplies, and comforted devastated locals.
Alley Cat Allies issued an emergency grant to FieldHaven to fund its efforts and cover emergency veterinary medical expenses, along with special air filters to keep smoke out of the shelter and even more supplies to keep animals safe and comfortable. We also plan to issue emergency grants to other shelters in the area to save more cats’ lives.
One after another, locals told harrowing stories about how they escaped as flames encroached on their properties. “Residents had just minutes to leave before their houses burned down, so a lot of people fled with their animals but many had to evacuate without them,” says Robinson. “Shelters are at capacity and we have no idea how many animals are still out there. Thousands of cats will need our help over the next few months.”
The blaze decimated Paradise, a town of 27,000, shortly after it began last Thursday. It quickly spread through Butte County, destroying more than 8,800 structures—most of them homes—and forcing some people to abandon their cars and flee on foot down roads lined with flames. At least 48 people are reported dead with many more still missing. The chaos displaced countless animals and people, many of whom are living in their cars with their animals.
Joy Smith, founder and executive director of FieldHaven, set up the group’s temporary shelter after receiving a desperate late-night call from the Yuba County Office of Emergency Services last week. At the time, the fire was spreading fast and evacuees had no place to take their cats. Smith rolled out of bed and got to work. On Friday, in the early hours of the morning, she drove to the Yuba-Sutter Fairgrounds, received supplies, and set up an intake and holding area with only a few volunteers. By Sunday, they were filled to capacity with dogs and cats, so the county directed Smith and her team to move the cats to the Whiteaker Hall. Smith says she and her group will stay round the clock to take in animals from evacuees.
By the time Alley Cat Allies arrived, the cat shelter had dozens of cats, four parakeets, and an iguana. Many more cats are expected to arrive as FieldHaven gets the word out and negotiates to bring in more cats from other jam-packed animal evacuation centers.
“People are coming in every five minutes to look for their animals or drop them off,” says Smith. “A lot of locals now have nothing but the clothes on their back and the animals they love. We want to help not just their cats, but them, too.”
One of those locals is Peggy H., who came to FieldHaven’s shelter to find a place for her beloved cat, Honey. When the Camp Fire first ignited, Peggy H. was forced to flee her mobile home in Paradise with only a few necessities, including Honey and her dog, Puggy.
“I looked out my window and all I saw was black and orange,” she says of the flames. “I called my neighbors to tell them to get out, grabbed my Honey and my Puggy, and ran to my car.”
The streets in the area were gridlocked with terrified fellow evacuees, and Peggy H. watched spot fires erupt and spread on the road right alongside them. She says she was certain she wouldn’t have a home to return to. She was right.
“Two years in Paradise and I loved every second of it,” Peggy H. says. “Now, that’s all gone.” She had just spent the entire summer improving her home and landscaping.
Peggy H. lived for days out of her car with her animals, bouncing from shelter to shelter trying to find a place to stay. FieldHaven was her last option, even if it meant separating from Honey. Robinson talked with Peggy H. and helped walk her through the process of getting Honey settled.
Even after losing everything, Peggy H. counted her blessings and praised the community for coming together for those in need.
“My animals are okay. I found all my friends and family. We’re all alive and we can rebuild,” Peggy H., in tears, told Robinson. “So much bad is happening, but so much good, too. I’ve seen car after car of people arriving and just asking what they can do to help. Everyone has been so generous.”
Another woman recounted the horror of fast-moving flames threatening her home. She told Smith of FieldHaven that she raced to grab one of her three cats out from under a bed before fleeing, because she refused to evacuate without all her animals.
“She said, ‘I got nothing else, but I got my three cats’,” says Smith. “Those are the stories we’re hearing. But so many people have animals that are still out there and they’re begging us to go look for them.”
Smith says FieldHaven plans to do just that. As evacuation orders continue to lift and people are allowed back into the most devastated areas, FieldHaven, which runs a strong Trap-Neuter-Return program, will start trapping to reunite cats with their families.
“We have professional ‘cat finders’ who will go in to trap and look for cats. They’ll find these animals, get them the medical treatment they need, and get them back to their families,” says Smith. “We’re in for the long haul and we still have a long way to go before recovery is done.”
In Oroville, the Butte County seat, the North Valley Animal Disaster Group (NVADG) also took in evacuees’ animals. When Alley Cat Allies visited, the group was caring for 258 cats, 188 dogs, 76 chickens, 41 birds, five rabbits, four geese, two ducks, and two guinea pigs—all in a tightly packed building.
Volunteers have had little to no sleep and have been mainly existing on granola bars. NVADG is working closely with the California Veterinary Medical Reserve Corps Relief to care for animals who were burned, including several cats and dogs.
Across the state in Southern California, raging wildfires destroyed homes and businesses and displaced people in Los Angeles and in Ventura counties. Two fatalities were reported and three firefighters were injured battling the blazes.
We will keep you updated on recovery efforts and our work to help cats in the path of the devastating fires. Please make an emergency donation today to support our California wildfire disaster relief efforts.