- Wildfires have burned more than 1 million acres of land in Oregon and forced tens of thousands of people to evacuate.
- One volunteer group, Cowgirl 911, has been helping farmers who were forced to evacuate find temporary homes for their livestock.
- The loss of animals can be devastating to farmers who rely on them for income.
- View more episodes of Business Insider Today on Facebook.
As wildfires continue to rip through the Northwest, a volunteer group in Oregon is rescuing livestock and returning them home to farmers who were forced to evacuate.
The group, Cowgirl 911, has rescued 20,000 horses, pigs, llamas, and other farm animals since wildfires began spreading through Oregon in July. So far, 39 separate fires have burned more than 1 million acres across the state, and 40,000 people have been forced to evacuate.
Cowgirl 911 founder Katie Schrock started the network as a Facebook group, where volunteers started matching people whose animals needed to be evacuated with those 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,” she told Business Insider Today.
The group quickly expanded as the fires grew. At the height of the wildfires last month, Cowgirl 911 was receiving hundreds of messages per day and responding within minutes.
“Someone had you on the phone verified all of your needs and your location, and was able to give you an update of who was coming, what they were driving, and where they were going to go with your animals,” Schrock said.
John Reynolds reached out to the group when the fire was just a few miles away from his farm in Oregon City. He needed help moving his flock of sheep, a llama, and two horses. His animals, along with hundreds of others, received 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,” he said.
The project has been an immense undertaking that’s required the coordination of thousands of volunteers, between dispatchers, livestock haulers, and property owners willing to house 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,” volunteer Juli McClennan said.
And while volunteers were doing their best to keep the animals healthy and happy, some things were out of their control.
“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.”
Volunteer Gus Liska, owner of Naked Acres Farm in Beavercreek, reported similar symptoms.
“There’s a couple of pigs they’re getting a cough. I know a few of my cows have a cough,” he said. “Their eyes were pretty watery and irritated for days.”
Commercial livestock is a major source of income in Oregon. The cattle industry contributed $US625 million to the state’s economy, making it the third most valuable agricultural product in Oregon last year.
With livestock commonly valued between $US3,500 and $US5,000, Schrock said the loss of a single animal can be devastating 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,” she said.
And that’s one of the reasons why, as the fires raged on, many locals stepped up to help.
“Getting them home and just seeing how happy they are 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 â€” it’s all worth it.”
Business Insider Emails & Alerts
Site highlights each day to your inbox.