Oregon Volunteer Group Rescues 20,000 Farm Animals Amid Wildfire Evacuations

by Chris Haney
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As wildfires continue to blaze throughout the Northwest, an Oregon-based volunteer group is on a mission to rescue livestock and return them home to farmers who were forced to evacuate.

Since the wildfires began in July, the volunteer group, called Cowgirl 911, has rescued 20,000 horses, pigs, llamas, and other farm animals in Oregon. Cowgirl 911 founder Katie Schrock began the volunteer network as a Facebook group. The account originally matched people whose animals needed evacuation with volunteers who could help.

“At one point in time, families were having to leave very quickly. But, we wanted to make sure that livestock and people’s livelihoods got out with that,” Schrock told Business Insider.

The group grew rapidly as the fires continued to spread. In fact, 39 separate fires have burned more than 1 million acres across the state. Additionally, 40,000 people have been forced to evacuate their homes and farms.

Last month, as the wildfires peaked in the state, Cowgirl 911 received hundreds of messages on a daily basis. In addition, the group strived to respond within minutes. 

“Someone had you on the phone, verified all of your needs, and your location.,” Schrock explained. “And (we were) able to give you an update of who was coming, what they were driving, and where they were going to go with your animals.”

Evacuation site in Canby, Oregon. (Photo by KATHRYN ELSESSER/AFP via Getty Images)

John Reynolds contacted the group when the fire was only a few miles away from his Oregon City farm. He needed help transporting his flock of sheep, a llama, and two horses. Reynolds’ animals, along with hundreds of others, received safe shelter at the Washington County Fairgrounds.

“It was a matter of a phone call and within I’d have to say three hours, they were moving,” said Reynolds.

Oregon Animal Rescue Group Is an Immense Undertaking

The coordination of thousands of volunteers has has been a huge task. The moving parts of the operation include coordinating between dispatchers, livestock haulers, and property owners that have opened their homes to the animals.

“I’ve never been around the magnitude of this many animals being displaced in such a short amount of time and the logistics of how to keep track of the owners, and the animals, and where they’re going to go, and making sure they’re fed,” said volunteer Juli McClennan.

However, as volunteers did their best to keep the animals safe and healthy, other aspects of the rescues were uncontrollable.

“They are breathing in this bad smoke and ash, and that’s not healthy for them,” volunteer Jamie Chambers said. “And when the weather gets so up and down, they get so hot and then stressed out. That really, really messes with their system just the same as it would with a human.”

Likewise, volunteer Gus Liska, owner of Naked Acres Farm in Beavercreek, reported similar issues.

“There’s a couple of pigs they’re getting a cough. I know a few of my cows have a cough,” said Liska. “Their eyes were pretty watery and irritated for days.”

Livestock Is a Major Source for Oregon’s Economy

Cows are grazing surrounded by thick smoke from wildfires near Oregon City, Oregon. (Photo by ROBYN BECK/AFP via Getty Images)

Oregon’s commercial livestock industry is a major source of income for the state. The cattle industry alone contributed $625 million to Oregon’s economy. In fact, as of last year, the cattle industry is the third most valuable agricultural product in the state.

Since livestock is worth between $3,500 and $5,000 per animal, Schrock said the loss of a single animal can be crippling to farmers.

“While you may have insurance that covers for that one year, your insurance may not cover for future offspring that were going to help supplement your herd,” said Schrock.

That is just one reason of many why multiple locals pitched in to help as wildfires continue to ravage the land in Oregon.

“Getting them home and just seeing how happy they are and comfortable in their own place, and how happy the owners are, how relieved they are, it’s worth it. It’s all worth it,” volunteer Tiffany Santanelli said. “All the zero hours of sleep that we’d gotten in seven days — it’s all worth it.”

[H/T Business Insider]

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