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Into the Breach

North Bay nonprofits rose to challenge during Valley Fire

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SUNRISE HORSE RESCUE

Jeffrey Hoelsken saw the glow of the Valley Fire on Sept. 12. The executive director of the Sunrise Horse Rescue was hosting the nonprofit's annual fundraiser in Calistoga when the fire broke out that evening.

"It was a scary sight," recalls Hoelsken. "We were very close to it from the beginning."

That night, the St. Helena–based horse sanctuary began taking in animals from evacuees, and by Sunday their staff of trained volunteers was venturing out to pull animals out of the fire line.

"Anytime something like this happens, there're people who naturally mobilize towards the danger to help," Hoelsken says. "Our volunteers were very ready to go."

With extensive training on their side, the staff at Sunrise was able to approach many distressed horses and move them to the Middletown Animal Hospital. They also dropped hay and water to animals left behind.

FIRE FRIENDS Jake, right, was rescued from the Valley Fire and became friends with Hero, a longtime resident of Sunrise Horse Rescue. - PHOTO COURTESY SUNRISE HORSE RESCUE
  • Photo courtesy Sunrise Horse Rescue
  • FIRE FRIENDS Jake, right, was rescued from the Valley Fire and became friends with Hero, a longtime resident of Sunrise Horse Rescue.

Sunrise founding board member and horse trainer Tracee Beebe recalls seeing one horse that would not come out. Beebe recognized something was wrong and, as she approached, saw the animal was impaled with a fence post. She called a vet and waved down two men with a trailer who were out helping any way they could. One of the men had just lost everything in the fire. Together, they saved the horse's life.

"It was really intense to be up there at that time," Beebe says. "But that's why we were there: to help life continue in the midst of that."

Back at the sanctuary, 20 horses (and two goats) came to stay with Sunrise, and for a few it will become their forever home. Hoelsken credits the outpouring of donations and support, from food and cash donations to volunteer help, in saving many of these horses. "We were blown away and so grateful that the community responded the way it did," he says.

For more information, visit sunrisehorserescue.org. —Charlie Swanson

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