Dear Friends.....This is VERY long but please read it carefully.....We,
both human and the birds we love are FINE but need your help for the
Sybil Erden - May 25-28, 2005
The Oasis Sanctuary is a life-care facility established to care for
captive exotic birds, mostly parrots. There are 400+ birds plus 50 other
farmed and domestic animals, as well as 8 human animals, who call the
Sanctuary home. The Oasis Sanctuary is located in rural southeastern
Wednesday night May 25th 2005 was one of the most frightening nights
of my life, a night no one at The Oasis will ever forget.
A corner of the property next door to the Oasis --- a foreclosed store
called Sun Station, located on the 40 acres adjacent to our 72 acres---
either caught or was set on fire. I became aware of the fire when I went
outside at 9:50 PM and saw the 50+ foot tall plume of fire towering over
the trees. It was mind boggling.... an orange glow, soundless, mindless,
reaching into the heavens, sparkling with embers.
My worst nightmare was realized --- Fire.
called 911 to get the fire department out here before doing anything
was told they had
already been notified and were on their way.
But being on "their way" is a relative
term out here in the rural Southwest.
has a volunteer Fire Department ("VFD")
and the members are individually notified, called and rounded up. They
have one truck and a water tanker. The other local fire departments (other
than the State Land Department or Forestry Service) are also VFDs. The
closest, in St. David, is 45 minutes away once deployed. The next closest
and best outfitted is in Mescal, about an hour away. Tombstone is an
almost two hour drive.
their way" leaves you "on
your own" for quite some time out here.
After calling 911, I called (and probably awakened) two of Oasis Staff
members, Rick and Karen Van Tuyl. I spoke to Rick and assessed him of
the situation and asked to call the Staff. Within five minutes Rick,
Karen, Nancy Stephens, Bill Fonner (who has been off due to illness)
Emily Moddelmog and Keith Cliver were all in the field ready to work.
called TJ (Oasis Associate Director, my partner)....who was in Phoenix,
he had taken a Blue
and Gold named Amos to our veterinarian for
surgery the following day. (Amos remained, had surgery, and was cared
for by Tom and RuthAnn LaRue, our foster/intake home in the Phoenix area.)
TJ had just arrived in Phoenix just four hours earlier after a 3-hour
drive up there. He made it back to the Sanctuary in 2.5 hours...a new
and nearby friends came to help...Firefighters - local Cascabel fire
and others from as far away as Mescal, St.
David, Tombstone and the State came to fight the fire and protect the
property. We were fortunate...the air was humid and there was no wind.
The strong breezes of earlier in the day had died down. We have a wide
dry creek) which bi-sects our property. It separated us from the fire.
The fire trucks came down the wash and were able to fight the blaze,
and kept it from "jumping" to the
side of our property where the birds, other animals, homes and buildings
the staff was working, I called TARA (Tucson Avian Rescue and Adoption)
Judy Ray and her family. She and Sherri Brovas (one
of TARA's co-founders) called, woke and then rounded
up people and soon four trucks and cars were on their way from Tucson
(1½ hours away).
I moved around the property, collecting supplies and rounding up animals,
I would go to TJ's
house and the guest house, I was within two city blocks of the fire.
The fire was so hot
and large that even at an one-eighth of a mile I felt the heat blast!
It literally was as warm as standing next to a large bon-fire.
The Evacuation plans we had been working on were implemented. Staff
took all trucks and carts and moved carriers into the bird building and
field. Birds indoors were captured and crated first as I feared a power
outage if power lines burned. More cages/carriers were taken out of the
storage unit and arranged near the outdoor aviaries and enclosures. Feeder
doors were wired shut, carriers secured, etc.
Neighbors soaked the areas around buildings. I rounded up the cats and
dogs....made sure the horses, cows and other four-leggers were ok. Tish
and John Heistadt from Forever Home Donkey Rescue about 12 miles down
the road) came with their van and were in charge of getting the large
animals to safety.
1:30 AM we were told we could stand down – that, at least for
now, the fire was "contained" and our evacuation was not longer
imminent. I decided to keep things in the ready until the fire was out...
We left crated birds and other animals in their carriers overnight. Trucks
and vans were on standby. Materials for evacuation left where they were….
We called the TARA crew on their cell phones and they turned back before
arriving with the understanding that they were available should things
become worse. Tom Trebeski, who is our Webmaster as well as a TARA and
Oasis Volunteer had no cell phone, He arrived around 1:30 AM and spent
the night here, sleeping in our small guest house.
our friends' help
we could have managed to get out with all the birds.... Stressed and
shaken --- but we would have
made it through.
and a neighbor Jason (who helped us here while his girlfriend Kristina
across the road and took care of their animals)
went to look at the fire area around 1:30 AM – it had crossed
onto and burned some of our property...but no buildings or structures
on either property were damaged.
Most importantly our animals are safe.
It is 3:20 AM and we are finally settling down for the night... However,
the firefighters are still working at their tasks. It was smoky but most
of the smoke stayed clear of the birds...
4 AM TJ finally went home and to bed. Around 5 AM, as the sun rose
and the sky turned silver and hopeful, I hiked down the wash to the
The majority of the blaze was out. Hot spots remained and were being
dealt with by a few remaining volunteers.
before 7 AM I kicked off my shoes and went to bed, fully clothed. I
for two hours…
Staff members, who had worked until almost 2 AM, and one who had not
been to sleep yet, showed up for work at 7AM. I told them to go home
after feeding and call it a day.
Later that afternoon TJ and I went into Benson (the closest town, 40
minutes away) to pick up supplies for the birds and other critters. He
and I were supposed to go into Tucson (an hour and a half drive) for
supplies and to pick up a bird at the airport at 9:30 PM but I just did
not feel comfortable having both of us gone. My gut said not to be gone
long. It was just a feeling....
members Keith and Emily had a vet appointment for a cat in Tucson.
I "bribed" them
with a dinner to stay in town and get the bird...Nancy loaned them
her cell phone so that they would have access if there was
any further trouble.
TJ and I got back to The Oasis at 6:30 PM. It had become quite windy
and we discussed how lucky we had been that it had not been like this
the night before....
Bill met us near my house. He told us that he and Nancy and the Van
Tuyls had gone down to see where the fire had been...and found that no
one was there any more ...and that there were hot spots (small fires
in the debris of trees) still left.
Bill, TJ and I drove down the wash in our wonderful, donated, 4-wheel
drive 1990 Isuzu and found the winds fanning the smoking hotspots back
up into fires. Many fires were in tall, 30 foot high trees which were
burning on the inside and having flame and sparks flying out the tops
onto unburned areas of dry grass.
This was NOT good.
The men got shovels and the water sprayers we use to spray down the
birds and got to work. I called the fire department ...and their line
was busy (our VFD does not have call waiting!!!) I called 911.
Jason showed up to take Kristina (his girlfriend, with her leg in a
cast) to see the fire site....They saw what was happening and he ran
home to get more tools. Jason also grabbed another neighbor, Daniel,
and enlisted him into the work force.
I took Kristina home and called 911 again. I called Nancy and asked
her to stay on the phone trying to reach Les, the fire-chief of the Cascabel
VFD. She finally got through...
I found and borrowed a number of flashlights. Karen and Rick loaned
us walkie-talkies. (A friend of The Oasis has now sent us a 4 pack that
Motorola makes to help with communication on site and in emergencies.)
It took until 8:30 for the fire departments from Cascabel and Mescal
to arrive. The crew from Mescal could not find us due to some miscommunication
with the dispatcher. When the firemen arrived our guys had put 90 percent
of the fire out. They were all were very apologetic about the situation,
and pleased with the good job Oasis had done.
TJ and Jason are the heroes of the evening….
The next day the guys, and Keith and Emily who were on their day off,
went down at several points during the morning and afternoon, to wet
down and break up a few remaining and rekindling hot spots.
The afternoon of the 27th was cloudy and the breeze picked up. The temperature
dropped and at 3 PM the rain began. It rained steadily until 8 PM. I
kept walking outside and getting wet. We all agreed that we had never
been so happy to be so soggy!
no doubt are things we will need to improve, and many things we will
upgrade our ability to bring the over 450 animals
and humans who call Oasis home to safety. From our end Staff will
meet, note what we learned... devise an even better, quicker way of handling
this sort of an emergency situation.
are fire-breaks to create, brush to be cleared. Trailers to be stocked
and refurbished. Work is
ahead of us…but now we know that
with a few hours of time we…with the help of the wonderful people
we call Friends of Thhe Oasis, we can do this….
couple of years ago we asked for and were able to purchase three trailers…a
large bird evacuation trailer which we have beeen refurbishing, a smaller
trailer which needs upgrading and will also be used to move the birds,
as well as a small human travel trailer which will hold supplies and
is incredible recognizing the number of things we need to keep on hand,
of many items used daily. Some things we
thought we had enough of we found to be in short supply….sound
carriers, hand tools, emergency medical supplies for animals and humans
(bandages for bird bites, as an example!) We need to stock one of the
trailers with bins of food for the animals, water, extra towels, bowls,
spare flashlights and spare batteries, emergency lights, ladders, bird
nets…. There is more!
We are now suggesting that, especially during fire season (which runs
through September,) each staff member will have a small duffel with their
own emergency stuff---a couple changes of clothes, another pair of shoes,
medicines, makeup and/or shaving goods, shampoo and toiletries, favorite
photos, jewelry and mementos, as well as copies of insurance and other
This was one hell of a fire drill...a real wake-up call.
fire season looms ahead – and
this is only May....
morning after the fire, as dawn's first rays
lit the sky, in the bird field, Jasmine our beautiful little Double Yellow
head began to sing: "Oh what a beautiful morning…."
There is work to be done and additional supplies needed to insure the
of the Birds
at The Oasis Sanctuary in case of further emergency,
This is going to be costly. Please visit our website http://www.the-oasis.org/ to
see what supplies we need that you might have ….or you can make
a donation on line or contact Oasis office manager Charlotte Fox at 602-863-1543.
you in advance for your help!
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