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.