The Sand Fire started for us about 1:30 p.m. Friday afternoon July 22. Members of the Emergency Photographers Network started fielding reports of a 25-acre fire alongside Highway 14 in Canyon Country. No big deal — but then the reports started escalating: 50 acres, 75 acres and more. We grabbed our gear and rolled. As we were driving, the acreage count jumped to 200 acres and reports of multiple spots started coming in. For some reason, the fire location couldn’t be pin-pointed but we sure could see the smoke. People started posting on the social networks to get ready for a firestorm heading for the Wildlife Way Station on Little Tujunga Canyon Road.
One volunteer, Sarah Stone, posted “Saturday morning, yesterday, I woke early to check the fire’s status when I saw a shared post from a Sunland/Tujunga Facebook page. The Wildlife Waystation, an exotic animal rescue facility, was under threat from the fire which had shifted overnight. Horse trailers and stake bed trucks were desperately needed to haul out animals.
“I posted on my local Chatsworth Facebook page for anyone with a stake bed truck. A few minutes later my neighbor Robert Vinson called to offer his help, though he had no truck. We decided to rent a 12′ stake bed with lift gate from a local Chatsworth truck rental. Within an hour we were driving to Sunland.
“Traveling up the winding road to the animal center, we could see flames and smoke rising from several of the rocky outcroppings. It was very intimidating, but we saw police and fire personnel along the route who all seemed calm, so we knew the situation was still under control.
“When we pulled into the facility, the first man we saw, one of the animal-handling staff, yelled, ‘We have a stake bed; bring up the tigers!’ I was a bit surprised, thinking we would be transporting something like goats or donkeys, but indeed, actual sleeping tigers were brought out.
“At this point I should mention: In case you think that Robert and I were handling any of the big cats, we were not. Professional handlers were managing the animals every step of the way.”
At the same time, volunteers were assembling at the Ranch Side Café and parking their vehicles along Foothill Blvd. and Osborne St. Because of poor cell phone coverage, messages had to be relayed by people going up and down the road. Evacuation staging areas were set up at Hansen Dam, and waterdropping helicopters could be seen filling their tanks in the Hansen Dam wet lands.
Nearly all of the animals were evacuated and those that weren’t were safely housed away from the fire. What started in absolute chaos smoothed out into a coordinated and welloperated evacuation. As fire equipment from the county, city and ANF rolled up the mountains, Wildlife Way Station (WWS)employees refilled the fire engines from the WWS water reservoir using their own water tankers.
It was a perfect example of “Volunteers Saving The Day” in helping out their neighbors.