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Hundreds of animals evacuated from massive fires burning near Spokane

“Golden,” the appaloosa kept playing with his lead rope chain to pass the time at the Spokane County Fair & Expo Center.
Anna King
Northwest News Network
“Golden,” the appaloosa kept playing with his lead rope chain to pass the time at the Spokane County Fair & Expo Center.

“Golden,” the massive appaloosa with a white-patterned blanket on its rump, kept playing with the lead rope chain looped around the stall bars.

The horse was determined to get it. The appy used lips to grab at it and lift it up then would drop the chain and send it jangling, before repeating the game over and over.

The appy’s nerves are echoed in the tense expressions of the people around this barn at the Spokane County Fair & Expo Center, where hundreds of stock animals are stalled right now.

The animals – often with their owners – are evacuees ahead of the Oregon Fire and the Gray Fire.

Beasts of burden

Entering the horse barns here, it kind of looks like a sort of weird, somber fair time. Horses and ponies whinny to each other, stalled chickens cluck and roosters crow and goats attempt to escape as they’re being fed.

This is a stressful time for most all here. Other than a quick half-smile, most of the people are hustling to feed and water and clean the stalls of hundreds of animals.

Marian Ortiz is the head of the HEART organization – or Humane Evacuation Animal Rescue Team – that specializes in helping animals in emergencies.

“It’s fluid,” Ortiz says. “Animals are coming in and animals are going out. We probably have about 325 animals in this shelter here at the fairgrounds. We are going to get a lot more later today. We have heard we’re getting at least 70 more coming in from another area where they’re no longer able to stay.”

She said if you want to help, send money to approved organizations that are vetted. Any volunteers have to be vetted and trained before they can help with an incident like this.

Cleaning stalls and watering stock was Jacob Barrientos. He said he fought fire on the lines of the Gray Fire both Friday and Saturday night. Then, he picked up and came here to volunteer.

“We’re always worried about all the animals and we’re here to help them in anyway we can,” Barrientos said.

Some animals appeared calm, others nervous. Some horses paced their stalls, throwing their heads.

 Thad Chodakauskas, from Mead, raked dirty shavings up from a stall of one of his stock animals.
Anna King
Northwest News Network
Thad Chodakauskas, from Mead, raked dirty shavings up from a stall of one of his stock animals.

Escape from the fire 

Another couple worked to clean their stalls out. Thad Chodakauskas from Mead raked dirty shavings up from a stall.

He said it's been stressful leaving home – the fire got within about two miles of it.

“There have also been some interesting arsonists, there was potential arsonists that wanted to start another fire, so they caught that,” Chodakauskas said. “And I’m always afraid of looters coming in. That’s why I spent last night at the house.”

His wife Carol Chodakauskas agrees it’s been stressful, she was alone just a few nights ago hitching up the truck, loading a horse and two mules by herself to escape the fire.

“Well, it was just really rushed,” Chodakauskas said. “The first alert I got was a Level Three and I was going really, wow ok. The trailer isn’t hooked up to the truck.”

They are grateful for a place for their horse and mules.

and the couple counts themselves lucky. Their area has been downgraded from a Level Three to a Level Two.

“The house didn’t burn down, and everything was intact,” Thad Chodakauskas said. “So that was good. That was good. We’re lucky we got this rain…”

Everyone here needed it.

Copyright 2023 Northwest News Network. To see more, visit Northwest News Network.

Anna King
Anna King calls Richland, Washington home and loves unearthing great stories about people in the Northwest. She reports for the Northwest News Network from a studio at Washington State University, Tri-Cities. She covers the Mid-Columbia region, from nuclear reactors to Mexican rodeos.