Firestorms in California

Facebook photo of kitty rescued from Northern California fire

September and October are blissful months for me now that I live in the mountains of western North Carolina. I am treated to a feast of color and the quality of the light and crispness of the air create a deep sense of relaxation and a feeling of, “Ahhhhhh….”

I can’t help but compare this to the way I felt during Northern California Septembers and Octobers. There, the autumnal changes in the light and air signaled a need to be on guard for fear of firestorms, the likes of which are currently raging. It was never a matter of if there would be fires, but rather where they would occur. The need for hypervigilance resolved only when the rains arrived sometime in late October or early November.

I’ve been glued to the news watching the progress of the current Northern California infernos. My heart is filled with sadness and my mind with disbelief. Every person I’ve communicated with who lives in my old stomping grounds has been significantly impacted by the fires, be it by the intense smoke, sleep deprivation from maintaining a rooftop vigil with hose in hand, or the loss of homes, animals, places of business, community landmarks, houses of worship, and complete neighborhoods.

Veterinary hospitals have burned to the ground. The hospital where I worked is bursting at the seams with burn victims and patients transferred from evacuated hospitals, and staff members tell me that, depending on the changing winds, evacuation may be imminent.

Facebook is filled with images of animals displaced by the fires. Some of the photos are of cats and dogs with singed whiskers and hair coats who somehow managed to survive the inferno. Other images are of healthy appearing dogs and cats, posted by people who are hoping beyond hope to be reunited with a beloved pet who was unintentionally left behind.

Two Facebook pages have already been established to reunite pets with their people. Check out Napa/Santa Rosa Fires: Lost Animals and Napa/Santa Rosa Animal Evacuations Info.

The Santa Rosa Press Democrat reported an amazing and uplifting survival story about Safari West, an exotic animal habitat located in the hills surrounding Santa Rosa. As the article stated:

Peter Lang had a heart-wrenching choice — save his house in the fire-ravaged hills above Santa Rosa or protect the more than 1,000 animals trapped at his wildlife preserve, Safari West. The 77-year-old owner of the 400-acre facility on Porter Creek Road didn’t give it much thought.

As the flames approached, Lang ushered his wife, employees and 30 overnight guests off the hill, grabbed a garden hose and began dousing hot spots threatening his collection of primarily African species, including cheetahs, giraffes and rhinoceroses.

When dawn broke, they were all alive but Lang’s home was destroyed.

“I did not lose a single animal,” he said Tuesday as he walked the grounds, dense smoke still shrouding pens and other outbuildings. “It is amazing.”

As hot embers landed in the animals’ enclosures, Lang ran between them, putting out small fires and coaxing hyenas and other animals from one enclosure to another in a hopscotch manner to protect them. Small patches of ground burned but no animals were hurt, he said.

“I have a thousand souls I’m responsible for,” he said as he walked the grounds, dense smoke still shrouding pens and other outbuildings. “It wasn’t even a decision. This is what I had to do.”

I invite you to consider making a donation to an organization involved in rescuing/fostering animals who have been displaced by the fires. Here are some to consider. No doubt, there are plenty of other organizations pitching in who would welcome your donation.

Wine Country Animal Lovers

Jameson Animal Rescue Ranch

Sonoma County Animal Services

Dogwood Animal Rescue

Sonoma Humane Society

Hopalong and Second Chance Animal Rescue

Marin Humane Society

The firestorms are ravaging places where I lived, worked, and played for more than three decades. Having left the bay area just shy of six years ago, no doubt, “survivor’s guilt” plays a role in all that I am feeling. Thank you for letting me indulge in wearing my heart on my sleeve.

Best wishes,

Nancy Kay, DVM

Diplomate, American College of Veterinary Internal Medicine
Author of Speaking for Spot: Be the Advocate Your Dog Needs to Live a Happy, Healthy, Longer Life
Author of Your Dog’s Best Health: A Dozen Reasonable Things to Expect From Your Vet
Recipient, Leo K. Bustad Companion Animal Veterinarian of the Year Award
Recipient, American Animal Hospital Association Animal Welfare and Humane Ethics Award
Recipient, Dog Writers Association of America Award for Best Blog
Recipient, Eukanuba Canine Health Award
Recipient, AKC Club Publication Excellence Award
Become a Fan of Speaking for Spot on Facebook

Please visit to read excerpts from Speaking for Spot and Your Dog’s Best Health.   There you will also find “Advocacy Aids”- helpful health forms you can download and use for your own dog, and a collection of published articles on advocating for your pet’s health. Speaking for Spot and Your Dog’s Best Health are available at,, local bookstores, and your favorite online book seller.

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6 Comments on “Firestorms in California

  1. From who was unable to post directly:

    Please add Western Farm Center’s “Tubbs account” to list of key places to donate to for northbayfires animal relief. Donations can be mailed, called in, or made in person at the store on 7th St in Santa Rosa.

    Just as they did during and after the Valley Fire, the good folks at Western Farm have started a fund to aid currently evacuated animals in the short-term and regional fire-impacted animals/pets in the longer-term. They’ve got supplies and feed for many species of domestic and farm animals, and even for some wildlife.

    I’m sure you know that Western Farm’s animal feed + supplies resources and distribution network outdoes all others in this region. For example, it was Western Farm that made a CHP-escorted animal feed delivery to Safari West last week.

  2. Dr. Kay, this was so important to share today, thank you.

    We are also from the area, and in fact were scheduled to drive our RV up to Santa Rosa in two weeks for an extended stay. Our friends and family all live in SR and surrounding cities. Their lives will never be the same, it’s awful. And the animals…oh my gosh I can’t imagine how many are suffering because of this. Heartbreaking.

    Thank you for sharing the touching article and the organization’s links to donate, you can bet we’ll be helping out.

  3. It’s now become – not so hard to comprehend – how devastating the north bay fires have become. We too left Marin last year but remain in touch with long-time friends down in the north bay area being affected by these fires. Too many stories have not had happy endings and for those fortunate to have escaped the wrath (so far) their heroic and selfless stories have brought me to tears. Please tell your readers not to wait until Christmas to support all worthy organizations involved in this plight. They are quickly being depleted as more and more folks and animals are becoming displaced daily. We cannot sit back feeling safe and sound anymore – time to step up and help those who are suffering this horrific tragedy. Thank you Dr. Kay for opening up your blog to this unbelievable story.

  4. Having also lived for more than three decades in a county next door to Sonoma, we too were all too aware of what the end of summer often brings to California – and this year the conditions were all aligned for a perfect (fire)storm. It is horrific – the loss of many lives, over 4,000 homes and businesses burned, the trauma of having your life upended with no warning. This amazing and gorgeous part of Northern California will take years to recover, many lives and families will never be the same again…

    Thank you Nancy for sharing your thoughts and sharing the names of some of the wonderful organizations doing remarkable things for our furry friends! It is the perfect suggestion of another reader to make holiday gifts to these organizations – or any organizations helping victims of these fire storms, or the three hurricanes which struck Houston, Barbuda, and of course the yugely ignored Puerto Rico (because the people there speak Spanish and are of brown skin, really!).

  5. Hi Dr. Nancy
    Yes we have all been heartbroken by this terrible tragedy still ongoing. The devastation and loss of life is unfathomable. Thanks for giving us suggestions about organizations who are helping the animals and the people who love them and bless the compassionate and selfless heart of Peter Lang. My friend and I for Christmas gifts to each other make donations to animal rescue or shelters. This year I certainly know where those donations will be going. I hope all those you care for there are safe.

  6. Thank you for sharing your grief as well as resources that need help. I’ve posted your article on my SHARE Yahoo group and on my Facebook page. The horror of these fires is beyond belief, especially coming on the heels of the hurricanes in Texas, Florida, the Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico.

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