Ramblings From The Ranch – September 2023

100+ Dogs Evacuated Due To Wildfire

On the afternoon of June 4th, Ranch board member Syd Sullins was visiting with friends when she received several calls about a fire quickly approaching The Ranch. Syd messaged The Ranch board, a few volunteers, and the Ranch staff and headed that way.

“It was an extremely hot and windy day which made me nervous,” Syd said. She soon realized that the libramiento was closed due to the fire, so she took an alternate route through Chapala. 

“I have to say what I saw on the way up to the shelter was very ominous. Lots of fire and smoke. And from The Ranch road, I could see lots of flames to the south.”

When Syd and friends Julie and Linda arrived, things seemed a bit better. The smoke wasn’t affecting the dogs, and the group waited to see how close the fire would come. Meanwhile, the offers of help continued to pour in. Many people braved the smoke and flames to come, and simply said, “How can I help?” The Ranch board had discussed how to handle a fire in the past, but they quickly realized that this is something you can’t effectively plan ahead. There are no hard-and-fast answers and there are too many variables.

“At one point the wind shifted and I thought, We all need to get out of here now,”  Linda said, “or we could die out here.” During the worst of it, they considered their plan of last resort. “We figured we would put as many dogs as possible into available cars to evacuate and then open the runs so the other dogs could fend for themselves and get away from the fire if it got closer,” Syd said.

Luckily, Jena Olio of Clicker Pets Mexico called and offered the use of her new training facility. The facility had been constructed and was ready for a grand opening but she hadn’t yet accepted dogs. Within minutes, Jena and her team were at The Ranch and helping to load up the dogs. The group made trips to Jena’s and moved the dogs into the new runs and play yards. At the end of that afternoon, everyone was hot and exhausted. However, the group was comforted to see some dogs safe at Jena’s and the rest (hopefully) safe at the Ranch. Luckily, the road to the south of The Ranch had served as a fire break, so nothing at The Ranch was damaged.

The next morning, The Ranch put out a call for volunteers to help bring the dogs back and to spend time with them, as the dogs were very stressed. Again, volunteers and community members came through. Within no time, all the dogs were back in their original runs and volunteers were providing loving help to ease their anxiety. Everyone went home that afternoon feeling we had dodged a bullet. But then at 2:00, calls came about ANOTHER fire. “None of us could believe we would be faced with this two days in a row, but that’s exactly what happened!” Syd said.

The second fire was even closer to the shelter, this time to the north. When the board arrived, the bomberos (firefighters) were already on-site and quickly got to work, along with staff and some very brave volunteers. And this time, with no road to serve as a fire break, the fire was headed directly toward the back kennels. The group moved the dogs nearest to the fire into the play yards and again, volunteers and community members began to show up with offers to help. This time, we needed everyone. Once again, Jena Olio took a bunch of dogs (58 in total). Flower, with Stray Dogs of México, loaded up her truck with as many as she could accommodate. And other folks began arriving to help. “Many were people we didn’t know, but most agreed to temporarily foster a few dogs.” All 107 dogs were finally evacuated. By the time the fire was extinguished, it had reached less than 10 meters from the kennel. It had also encircled The Ranch tinaco (water tank).

The next day, staff came in bright and early to assess the damage.  While our tinaco appeared unharmed, our water lines were destroyed, melted but the fire. Staff members Manuel and Dulce made arrangements for a backhoe to come in that afternoon to dig a trench and they worked hard all day to lay a new line. They were slowed down by the scorched earth, which was still too hot to stand on and hot enough to melt the new water pipes. It was very late in the afternoon before it had cooled. They acted amazingly efficiently to get the property up and running again. While staff held the fort at The Ranch, volunteers again went to Jena’s and Flower’s facilities to help with feeding and poop clean-up, and to spend time with the dogs to give them a bit of continuity and normalcy in this horrible time for them. Unfortunately, the stress of the situation brought about dog fights overnight and two dogs succumbed to their injuries.

On Wednesday The Ranch was ready to bring dogs back. Once again, volunteers turned out to help transport them. They also helped Jena and Flower with final clean-up. In addition, The Ranch received generous donations to help repair the water lines. After three grueling days for both caretakers and dogs, it was so good to be back to normal. “It was definitely the quietest afternoon we’d had in a while. After mealtime, all of the dogs napped deeply and seemed quite relieved to be home. “We can’t thank all those who helped us enough! We really felt like the community we serve had our back at this difficult time,” Syd said.

A tiny silvery lining to this event was the adoption of two dogs who went out for foster and never came back. One was a small pit bull named Nebula who was fostered by Ranch volunteers. They knew Nebula would be just perfect for their friends Deb and Brad Felix—and by the end of the fire event, Deb told The Ranch, “We’re keeping this dog. We love her!”

This rainy season started much later than usual and (so far!) has been less generous with rainfall. Unfortunately, fires like this may become more common. The Ranch has created an emergency WhatsApp text list in case of another incident. If you want to be put on the list, please email Valerie at valerieabernathy@gmail.com. If help is needed, we will send out a WhatsApp message to everyone informing them of the type of help needed. We will particularly need short-term fosters if evacuation is again required.

Volunteers are also needed at the Ranch on a daily basis to help with socializing and walking the dogs. Please contact us if you’re able to help! We also could use more foster homes!  You can reach us through Facebook or at adoptaranchdog@outlook.com.

For more information about Lake Chapala visit: www.chapala.com

Christina Bennett
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