Life After the Fires

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Disaster Strikes

For nearly a month, the Tubbs fire raged throughout Sonoma County. It destroyed homes and businesses indiscriminately, and tragically, cost far too many lives. Here at Safari West, many of our own lost homes, including our founders, Peter and Nancy Lang. We had to evacuate, and indeed to close down entirely, at least for a while.

As you are probably aware, Peter Lang stayed behind after the evacuation and defended the property with a collection of garden hoses. Within a day or two—and with the cooperation of emergency services—he was joined by a contingent of Safari West staffers who helped defend the preserve. In an amazing display of foresight, the Langs purchased an old fire engine a year ago, and once we had a crew to man it, it went to work. Over the next several days, trained staff members put their heads down and went to work battling spot fires and tending to the curious, but otherwise largely nonplussed animals.

The Rumor Mill

Rumors abounded in those early days. Some claimed that we had cut fences and released the animals. Others that we were out of food and water and nearing death. Luckily, things were never that dramatic. No fences were cut and no animals need to be set free. We managed to move a few of the more docile and easily handled species during the initial evacuation, but that was the extent. Everybody else sheltered on property.

Surviving the Fire Storm

We were lucky in several ways with this fire. Our position, situated in a low valley meant that most of the embers being carried by the high winds went right over us.  Those that did land on our property generally landed in places that have been grazed by our many African herbivores. The diminished fuel load meant that most of these embers fizzled and went out, rather than leading to new spot fires. Our focus on identifying and proactively removing dead trees further reduced the available fuel.

This is not to say we got off unscathed. Fires did catch here and there on property. The osteology lab operated by the Safari West Research, Education, and Conservation Department burned completely. As did the Nairobi and the African Queen; vehicles used to conduct school field trips. Our paratransit vehicle for ADA-compliant safari excursions was also caught in the blaze.

Rising from the Ashes

In that first chaotic week, when it was still uncertain what the future might bring, we went to work on repairs hoping for the best.  A literal army of Safari West employees tried to get up the hill and onto the preserve. Road closures, downed lines, and the still active fire meant we had to turn back all but a few. Those up the hill went to work with the damage and the animals. The rest of us went to work tracking down missing team-members and organizing aid for those who’d lost homes.

It’s been slightly over one month, and if all goes to plan, we’ll reopen our gates before the passage of the second. We’re ready to load up the trucks and get back out there on safari. The Savannah Café will have a slower reopening but we hope to see some activity through the holiday season. The tent camp, though it won’t reopen until 2018, is enjoying a top-to-bottom deep cleaning and refurbishment. We’re coming back and we’re coming back strong.

Safari West Stands Tall

Unless some new calamity prevents it, we’ll resume safari tours through the scorched but still verdant Sonoma Serengeti on November 20th. To celebrate the sense of community and caring that blossomed out of this disaster, we’ll hold Thanksgiving festivities on November 23rd. And on December 2nd, we’ll host our grand reopening celebration! This event benefits the Safari West Wildlife Foundation and recognizes the many organizations who’ve made our community great.

Please visit and join us for any or all of these events and celebrate everything that makes us #SonomaStrong.

Jared Paddock

Safari West staff and conservation writer.

16 thoughts on “Life After the Fires

  1. Dear Safari West people and animals…I am so grateful that this enterprise will continue!

    I see that your Thanksgiving dinners are all booked…I had hoped to join you!

    Is there a waiting list in case of cancellations?

    I will be signing up for an overnight stay in 2018.

    1. Thank you for this, we truly appreciate all the love and support we’ve received. We don’t have a waitlist, but if there are any cancellations the opened slots will reappear in our reservation system. Your best bet for now is to keep an eye on the website. Thanks again for thinking of us and I hope we’ll see you up here soon!

  2. Hi, we are former residents of your ‘luxury’ tent cabin. We loved it there, and were totally fearful for you and all and the animals. Only sad to hear of the death of that cute newborn. But with death comes new life…remember (Death leaves a heartache no one can heal–Love leaves a memory no one can steal).
    We came by one week after the fire to see if there was anything we could do to help, but got turned away at the gate. Understandable considering the circumstances. We couldn’t believe what a hero Mr. Lang was during the worst of it all. UNBELIEVABLE!
    May God bless you and all that survived!
    Joanne & Cal

  3. Thank God for answered prayers! So glad you all survived and that you are so determined to recover. I look forward to visiting when all is complete.

  4. We love Safari West and watched in horror as the fires swept through the area up there. What heroes you all are, we were utterly amazed and heartened at the dedication and love you have all shown one another, the animals, and your community. God Bless you all. We cannot wait to return and Safari West will always hold a special place in our hearts. We had an incredible trip there two years ago and love to tell everyone about it, one of the most unique, tranquil, enjoyable and memorable places we have ever been in the world. We keep you all in our thoughts and prayers and wish you many beautiful years ahead.

    The Olcott Family

  5. Thank you for sharing your story! Through your social media feeds and email’s, I kept tabs on you during this horrible disaster. Adversity makes us that much stronger! Unfortunately I was not lucky enough to obtain tickets to the celebration in December but will contribute in other ways. Hopefully I can get up there, with family and friends, for a tour real soon! So glad all the staff and animals are safe and sound!

  6. Awesome email communicating clearly content in a passionate and timely manner. Didn’t realize the Tubbs fires went on for a month!

  7. I am so happy that you have survived the devastating fire and that all animals are safe.
    Safari West is very special and I hope that you continue your endeavors far into the future.

  8. God bless you all. I am so sad that some of you have lost homes.
    Thank you for protecting the animals. They depend on us.
    My daughter and I plan to visit your wonderful “Safari West” in the spring.
    I have been once before and fell in love with everything.
    May the Thanksgiving and Christmas season find you all well .
    SAFARI WEST DOES STAND TALL…THANKS TO ALL OF YOU.
    With Love,
    Margo

  9. Thank you for the update, we also were praying for you guys and all the animals big time and thank God everyone is ok. Sad about the lost homes but thankful for all the lives and Safari West being ok. ❤️

  10. Of all the newsletters I’ve received from you over the years, none have made me so happy as this one.

    You’ll be better than ever! Second chances. I’ve been there eleven times. The twelfth in March will be the best ever!

    Peter and Nancy, much love,

    Karen Morss

  11. So happy to hear that that there was not more damage and the animals were saved. My family has only been to Safari West once but thats all it takes to be a friend for life. We will be back for sure to show our love and support.

  12. So happy that Safari West is on the mend after the devastating fires in Sonoma County . I took my young niece and nephew in August, 2016 for the first time. It was thrilling for all of us. Can’t wait to bring the two younger nieces. Safari West is indeed a special place. I do hope that the owners will be able to rebuild their home lost to the fires. I have never met Mr. Lang, but understand he built all the furniture at Safari West and is very hands-on with everything that goes on at Safari West. They have done an incredible job establishing Safari West and I wish them the best reopening in November.

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Life After the Fires