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Residents evacuate pets, livestock in fire

Livestock owners prepared for the worst last weekend as firefighters, state officials and area residents scrambled to get information about the wildfire spreading quickly near Henry Hagg Lake.

As Sinda Spath traveled from her job at Dilley Elementary School Friday evening up the road to her home — where she runs Round House Ranch — she saw thick smoke hanging in the clouds and chunks of black ash falling from above.

At that point, her residence was at level one evacuation status, or “get set” on a “ready, set, go” scale. By Saturday, it had moved up to level two.

Just a bit farther up Sain Creek Road, homes were at level three: “Go.”

Spath and a few friends decided to move their horses out of danger Saturday — six went to Gaston Fire Chief Roger Mesenbrink’s home, two went to Gerri Fellows’ arena and three more were trailered to friends to put up for the weekend.

Spath’s neighbors, Pauline and David Gray, chose not to wait and moved their 19 horses Friday evening with help from their daughter. As they tried to round up the horses in the dark, helicopters were close to clipping the trees overhead, David Gray said.

“We had great neighbors who helped — some we knew and some we didn’t,” Gray said.

Launa James also decided to take action Friday night. She moved 11 horses from her home on Old Highway 47 to Ride On Ranch in Hillsboro, where barn owners offered stalls to evacuated equines. She also moved six cats, including a stray, to Companion Pet Clinic in Hillsboro, where she works.

“We have so many horses, we thought ‘We’re not going to be able to get out of here fast if we need to,’” James said. “It’s completely unpredictable. Let’s be safe; let’s be prepared.”

James prepared her goats and chickens for evacuation as well, but the fire was under control before she had to make the move.

Spath, the Grays and James all emphasized how supportive and caring community members and fire teams were as they received dozens of help offers.

Spath said the firefighters were constantly checking in with her.

“We felt secure with them,” she said.

Debora Wood of Washington County’s Bonnie Hays Small Animal Shelter said nobody took the agency up on offers to help move pets or livestock, but they did have trucks and a livestock trailer poised and ready. Wood said Multnomah, Clackamas and Clark county officials were also ready to step in if necessary.

“The system would have expanded as the situation expanded,” Wood said. “Everybody was able to evacuate their own animals safely. We always encourage people to plan for their own pets.”

Forest Grove Fire Marshal Dave Nemeyer was impressed by offers of help posted on Facebook.

“Our message was, ‘Take your pets and livestock with you if you can,’” Nemeyer said Wednesday morning. “But the cool thing was that so many people were commenting [on social media], saying, ‘Hey, I’ve got a trailer’ or ‘Hey, I’ve got stalls.’”

Most livestock owners were resting easier and bringing their animals back home as the fire reached 55 percent containment Monday.

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