Thursday, July 19 , 2018, 1:04 am | Fair 64º


Local News

Santa Barbara Wildlife Care Network, and Its Animals, Comes Through Wildfire Mostly Unscathed

With flames raging nearby, staff and volunteers quickly and diligently protect the site and organize the evacuation of nearly 400 of its ‘residents’

Driveway Click to view larger
The Santa Barbara Wildlife Care Network narrowly averted disaster Friday night and early Saturday as the Holiday Fire raged uncomfortably close to the rescue facility at 1460 N. Fairview Ave. Nearly 400 animals were evacuated from the site. (Brooke Holland / Noozhawk photo)

Staff and volunteers at the Santa Barbara Wildlife Care Network scrambled late Friday to rescue and evacuate hundreds of birds and four-legged animals as the fast-moving Holiday Fire burned nearby.

The 100-acre blaze was a harrowingly close call for the facility at 1460 N. Fairview Ave., and the nonprofit organization provided updates and donation requests on social media throughout Saturday.

“Thanks to some very brave staff and animal control, we have many birds with us now from baby bird room and pelican pools,” the center posted on its Facebook page.

“We had to evacuate, Fairview Road is on fire and winds are very intense. Thoughts and prayers to our community, firefighters and animals.”

The facility was “burned around the edges” but the structures were still standing Saturday, albeit with some damage, staff said.

A few animals died due to smoke inhalation, according to animal care staff, but 391 birds and mammals were evacuated off-site as of noon Saturday.

Wildlife Care Network staff set up a temporary base at the Santa Barbara Humane Society, 5399 Overpass Road, and some animals were taken to other locations. Many birds were transported to International Bird Rescue in San Pedro.

The Humane Society also is housing evacuated animals from the affected neighborhoods, including more than 100 birds, 10 chickens, three goats, some rabbits, a tortoise, dogs and cats as of Saturday morning, the organization said.

Most of the birds came from the Santa Barbara Wildfire Care Network, officials said.

The Wildlife Care Network asked its supporters for monetary donations and supplies, and set up a GoFundMe page with a goal of raising $20,000 specifically for fire-related expenses, including antibiotics for mammals that suffered smoke inhalation and repairs to the irrigation system and enclosures.

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Santa Barbara Wildlife Care Network volunteer Jim Hurnblad’s pickup truck was a collateral casualty of the wildfire, when he struck a utility pole while trying to drive through blinding smoke. (Jim Hurnblad photo)

According to the GoFundMe posting, the organization also needs a new generator and help with its water bill, which will see a significant jump when staff begins cleaning up ash, downed trees and burned plastic from the site.

“A few of our volunteers risked their lives to save the animals in our care,” the organization said. “Without these amazing people, many lives would have been lost.”

When Santa Barbara resident Jim Hurnblad, a four-year animal rescue volunteer with the network, received a call Friday night reporting that a fire had sparked in the 1500 block of Holiday Hill Road, he jumped in his pickup truck and raced to the facility from the Santa Barbara harbor.

“Usually when you hear about it, you think the fire is just starting, not that it’s already full-blown,” he told Noozhawk. “I got here within 20 minutes. The place was surrounded by smoke, and I could see the flames across the road.”

Hurnblad spent Friday night and early Saturday at the center, protecting the animals and buildings from the blaze.

He arrived around 9 p.m. Friday and closed the open building’s windows to help prevent the animals from breathing in the thick smoke. Standing behind the facility’s fence, he used garden hoses to keep the flames from spreading to the propety, which is nestled among avocado and citrus groves in the Goleta foothills.

Hurnblad said he orchestrated the rescue of the pelicans and cormorants, and was appreciative that Santa Barbara County firefighters were on the scene, as well.

Fence Click to view larger
The Holiday Fire’s flames burned to the perimeter of the Santa Barbara Wildlife Care Network. Most of the animals were evacuated safely, but a few died of smoke inhalation. (Brooke Holland / Noozhawk photo)

“I wasn’t afraid — I had energy,” said Hurnblad, who spent two years as a volunteer firefighter in Yolo County and also worked as an emergency medical technician.

“The embers were rolling along and catching what they could catch. The place was surrounded with smoke. The flames were maybe about a foot and a half.”

From around 2 to 4 a.m. Saturday, Hurnblad said he walked the 1½-acre property every 10 minutes to inspect the site.

“If I ever saw a glowing ember, I would go and knock it out,” he said. “I saturated everything, and I kept everything wet that I could.”

By late Saturday afternoon, the facility had been emptied of animals and people — except for Hurnblad, who was keeping an eye on the property.

“We were lucky,” he said.

Hurnblad warned drivers that wildfires affect visibility on even familiar roads. On his way to the site, he explained, he crashed his truck because of the heavy smoke.

“The truck is not operational,” he said. “When I lost visibility for a couple of seconds, I ran into a pole.”

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Noozhawk staff writer Brooke Holland can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

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