The HSUS's and The Fund for Animals' Wildlife Center—a sanctuary and rehabilitation facility in Ramona, Calif., part of San Diego County—takes in native wildlife species and is situated in one of the most fire-ravaged areas of the state. Thus far, miraculously, the center has survived the fires, but just barely.
Cindy Traisi and her husband Chuck Traisi are two of the most dedicated people I know, and they've been running the facility for more than 20 years. We spoke with Cindy yesterday, two days after she was ordered to evacuate, along with most of the facility's animals. Chuck has stayed behind to care for the animals who could not be readily moved.
What happened after the evacuation order?
A sign on a door in Fallbrook, Calif.,
indicates animals have been evacuated.
In the middle of the night, fog horns blasted. All 36,000 citizens of Ramona were told to evacuate. We called our volunteers Monday afternoon to ask them to help us evacuate the critters. We have a team of probably 17 long-time volunteers who are totally dedicated. Everyone responded and said “We’re on our way” but, one at a time, we then got phone calls saying the road was closed and they couldn’t reach Ramona. None of them could get to us.
What was the scene when you left?
We evacuated Monday afternoon. Our property looked like a dust bowl. Our cars were covered with soot and holes in the yard a foot deep were completely filled in.
From the back of our house at the top of the center’s 13 acres, we can see the Ramona airport, which is maybe a half-mile away. We could see flames licking the airport.
We were almost encircled by flames. The wildlife center is in a valley and flames were around us but not coming to us—it was just a miracle. Winds were in our favor the entire time.
When you evacuated, what animals did you bring with you?
We loaded the domestic animals—two dogs, four parrots and 20-some cats—into two vehicles. We’ve split the animals up between four homes in regions of San Diego that aren’t in danger from the fires. Two staff members and I are staying in downtown San Diego—the mother of one of our staff has opened up her heart and her home for us.
Who stayed behind?
Chuck stayed at the center. Chuck is okay, but we’re of course worried sick because we’re not there. Chuck says the air is clear and he doesn’t feel like he’s in danger. Three volunteers who live in Ramona and chose not to evacuate also came to help.
Just as important, the center’s permanent residents remain in their natural enclosures—bobcats, cougars, coyotes, the pigmy hippo Hannah and Sampson, the African lion.
Besides these permanent residents you also serve as a rehabilitation center for wildlife. Were any of those animals affected?
We take in all of the orphan coyotes, bobcats and birds of prey from the area during baby season. Thankfully, most of those babies had been released before the fires came. The only animals to still be rehabilitated and released are a couple of young coyotes and bobcats. They’re fine and as soon as they are old enough we will release them.
What special concerns or challenges have you faced?
Electricity was lost on one part of the property Tuesday, so there was no water there. Expecting electricity might go completely, Chuck started filling up all of the empty jugs and buckets with water. Electricity and water later went off in the other part of the property as well, but Chuck feels he stored up enough water. And volunteers have agreed to bring in fresh supplies. Chuck is doing a jam-up job keeping the animals comfortable and fed, in spite of the fact there is no electricity or water.