Volunteers Save Lions, Tigers and Bears from Southern California Wildfire

More than 38,000 acres and over 20 structures have burned in the “Sand Fire” north of Los Angeles. In the early morning hours of Saturday, July 23, flames came dangerously close to the Wildlife Waystation, a 160-acre sanctuary for over 400 animals, including lions, tigers, bears, birds, chimpanzees and horses.

“You could see fire tornadoes forming in the clouds of the smoke,” volunteer Jess Peláez told KPCC. “The flames would twist on themselves. You would hear lions starting to call to each other as the sun was beginning to rise. Then you would hear the chimps shrieking to each other and it just echoed around the canyon. It was completely surreal.”

More volunteers, including many animal trainers from the entertainment industry, began arriving at the Wildlife Waystation with horse trailers and trucks to help evacuate its terrified residents.

When Sarah Stone of Chatworth, Calif., saw a Facebook post that said the Wildlife Waystation was in desperate need of transportation vehicles, she and a neighbor rented a 12-foot stake bed truck and drove 20 miles to the sanctuary.

“I was a bit surprised, thinking we would be transporting something like goats or donkeys, but indeed, actual sleeping tigers were brought out,” Stone wrote on her blog. “The tigers were loaded into our truck. Then three large dog crates holding ocelots were put in. The truck wasn’t long enough to carry a fifth animal, an adult male lion, so the ocelots were removed and put in another truck, and a fully unconscious lion was loaded in.”

The larger animals were tranquilized and loaded onto the trucks by professional animal handlers, not the volunteers.

“They were evacuating rabbits in cat carriers,” Peláez told KPCC. “We saw large raptors in cat carriers. Smaller primates were in some of the smaller containers. We saw two tiger brothers completely knocked out in one horse trailer together.”

The birds were evacuated first since their delicate respiratory systems can be especially impacted by the smoke.

“The fire was visible, cresting over the hills to the east, so tension was high, but all of the staff and volunteers were incredibly tight and organized getting the animals crated and ready to move,” Stone wrote.

Stone followed a caravan of trucks to a safe location about 90 minutes away. “We moved the vehicles into a shaded hangar where we (yes, we) helped unload the animals,” she wrote. “There wasn’t a lot of staff on hand so we all had to chip in to get the animal cages off the vehicles and situated for the arrival of more animals.”

Within just a few hours Saturday morning, nearly all the animals at the Wildlife Waystation had been transported to safety, thanks to the volunteers. More volunteers than could be used had come to the sanctuary to lend a hand, spokesman Jerry Brown told the Los Angeles Daily News. “Animal people take care of animal people,” he said, and thanked the volunteers.

By Sunday afternoon, the wind had pushed the Sand Fire north, away from the sanctuary. On July 27, the evacuated animals started returning to their home.

“Up until yesterday, my experience with animal rescue had been limited to domestic animals, horses and reptiles, so helping to rescue big cats was a very exciting experience,” Stone wrote. “This was definitely a gold star day for community: people came from all over and coordinated their efforts to help in this dire situation.”

Peláez agreed. “I was blown away by the level of community response,” she told KPCC. “The teamwork was phenomenal. The animals were everyone’s first priority and it showed in every way.”

Photo credit: YouTube


John B
John B11 months ago

Thanks for sharing.

Siyus Copetallus
Siyus Copetallus1 years ago

Thank you for sharing.

Marie W.
Marie W1 years ago

Blessed be for caring.

Christine Stewart

Good job, to all those involved in this massive undertaking!

Dianne D.
Dianne D1 years ago

what remarkable people. So glad there were so many who volunteered and most importantly, the animals were safe.

Jennifer H.
Jennifer H1 years ago

Wow. Evacuated for 4 days? Hard on the animals and on the workers/volunteers. Many thanks to all who worked for the safety of the animals.

Julie D.
Julie D1 years ago

So many thanks to all who workedso hard to save these animals! They would not have been able to run away as much of the wildlife would have been able to do. Whenever we have these terrible fires I always think of the wildlife that suffers. These poor animals being in a sanctuary would have been trapped. It is always good to hear that so many people are willing to put themselves at risk and go to great lengths to help other beings.

Marcia Geiger
Marcia Geiger1 years ago

Thanks to you all from the bottom of my heart!

Janet B.
Janet B1 years ago


Sylvia Walker
Sylvia Walker1 years ago

Well done guys!