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Rescuers race flames to save pets, livestock

  • Story Highlights
  • Animal services: "We're doing the best we can to keep ahead of the flames"
  • Officers looking for animals left in evacuated areas
  • Many shelters taking in animals along with people
  • Humane Society: Not a repeat of Katrina
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By Cybil Wallace
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(CNN) -- In San Diego County, officials are racing, literally, to save pets and livestock left behind by hundreds of thousands of residents fleeing the raging wildfires.

Horses stand in a pen as fire threatens the Bonita neighborhood in San Diego, California.

For the County of San Diego Department of Animal Services, it's nonstop work to save as many lives as possible, said Lt. Daniel Desousa.

"We're doing the best we can to keep ahead of the flames and pull the animals out," he said Tuesday. "Are animals going to be killed? Yes. But we're doing the best we can."

With help from Los Angeles and the Humane Society of the United States, the county's 30 animal services officers have been answering calls from people who left their pets and livestock behind as well as those who have seen animals left in evacuated areas.

Many people calling don't have enough trailers to get all of their horses to safety and need help, he said.

"I never knew we had so many horses here," Desousa said. "And we're seeing even more this time because our fires are bigger and worse (than the 2003 fires that swept the area)." Video Watch people staying with pets at refuge »

At a fairground in San Diego County, 2,000 horses are being boarded, but Desousa said it seems like horses are being housed everywhere -- even mall parking lots -- with their anxious owners standing next to them.

"If you have an open space, we'll put horses on it," he said.

The Humane Society's Curtis Ransom is stationed at an emergency campground in San Diego County where people have taken refuge with their dogs, cats, horses and even goats.

"It's a whole different situation from Katrina; people are taking care of the animals," Ransom said.

"The message has gotten out. It's a horrible disaster, but as far as the facilities and the willingness to take in animals, I don't think there's any hesitation," he said.

He said they have received invitations from shelters to take in pets -- they even have one place that could house an elephant, if needed -- and many of the evacuation areas are allowing people to bring their furry friends.

Also, news stations are informing people about where they can take their animals if their neighborhood is evacuated, Ransom said.

Desousa said the county has been so busy with the work, they don't have figures on how many animals they've saved and evacuated.

One officer called to say there was a bird left in a house in the fire's path. He wanted to know if he should kick in the door to get the animal. Desousa told him that the door won't matter if the fire destroys the house. Save the bird, he told him.

Other times, flames have been too close for officers to grab the animals, Desousa said.

On the job for 19 years, Desousa said this is the worst series of wildfires he's seen.

Even many of the officers themselves have been evacuated.


Desousa has his three dogs, three cats, a tortoise and a snake in his office. He said when they were told to evacuate, they divvied up priorities.

"I ran home, grabbed the animals and my wife grabbed the family photos," he said. E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

All About Wildfires

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