Kenwood Press

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Living with Wildlife: 08/15/2015

Wildfires, wildlife, and memories

Last month my husband Chris and I observed the 19th anniversary of the day our house on Cavedale Road burned down in a wildfire. It was the worst day of my life. I was sitting in my office on W. Napa Street in Sonoma when my neighbor called from her office in the East Bay saying she'd heard on the radio that there was a fire on Cavedale Road. I ran outside, looked up and there it was - a raging fire that appeared to be very near the area of our house. I called Chris and within a couple of minutes we were headed toward home.

The fire burned on for several days, but for us, it was over in just a few hours. Our house was reduced to rubble, and, aside from our dog Sadie, we had lost everything, most importantly our three other beloved pets. We are still grateful to the unknown fire fighter who, in trying to enter our house, found the door blocked by Sadie, who had passed out. He carried her outside and revived her with oxygen. We were lucky enough to have her with us for several more years.

Right now California is burning, and the fear of fire is something we have never overcome. The sound of a fire engine, the smell of smoke, hearing the planes with borate flying overhead as well as seeing helicopters that carry water brings that day right back to us. As I write this, the Wragg fire is now out, but the huge Rocky fire continues to burn. At the moment it has burned over 100 square miles. And now, we have the Jerusalem fire. These are just the fires in our area, but they are all huge.

Chris and I previously lived in big cities, so when we moved to a remote house on Cavedale, it was a big change for us. We fell in love with life in the country. Both of us had always been nature lovers, but never had I felt so close to nature. The sunsets, the moon rising, the peace and quiet were all so special. It was magical.

For me, the biggest attraction was the wildlife. Over the years we saw almost everything one would expect to see in such surroundings. The Great Horned Owls would wake us up at night calling to each other. Standing at the kitchen sink, I would watch a family of California Quail walking by, spot a jack rabbit or a coyote. One day looking out the window my eye caught a gorgeous Bobcat. A family of foxes were regular visitors. The birdlife was incredible. My life was enriched every day by living in that environment.

During, and after the fire, the press was full of stories, and it was always just about the two homes and other structures that burned, and that there was no loss of life! No loss of life? How could that be when thousands of trees burned down, each one being a home, and often a source of food, to countless lives: insects, birds, mammals, reptiles, etc. And what about all those creatures - what was their fate? Yes, some could fly out of the fire, some could run, but many could not. I imagine that there was a tremendous loss of life in that fire.

It has always irritated me that when the media reports on fires, it is simply about humans and buildings; occasionally pets. Is it really just all about us? Do they think we don't care about anything else? I'm always concerned about what happens to the pets, the horses, the livestock - especially ones that are large and difficult to evacuate. Those lives are, to a large extent, dependent on humans, but the wildlife are on their own. They have no TV or radio reports to guide them, no knowledge of how large the fire is or what direction it is headed or what the level of containment is. Many wild animals have just begun their lives and are too young to fly, or to run great distances to get out of a fire.

A few years ago, a fellow wildlife rehabilitator from Southern California lived on the edge of a large wildfire. She related to me her experience of walking through the area and finding small carcasses in what had been a forest. She put buckets of water out for the survivors and saw deer, and smaller mammals coming to drink, many with injuries or singed fur. Their homes were gone, their food was gone, they were left with nothing and no place to go. It's disturbing that the media never feels compelled to tell us this side of the story. I can't begin to imagine how much wildlife is dead or displaced, how many trees, how much brush is gone in a fire that has burned over 100 square miles so far. It must be a staggering number.

I often think of my life on Cavedale Road, and how much I loved it there. I still wonder what the fate of all my wild neighbors was - who survived, who didn't. To me, the fire was not just about us, but all of the flora and fauna that we were lucky enough to share our lives with as well.

Sharon Ponsford is a a longtime volunteer with Sonoma County Wildlife Rescue and a former board member of the California Council of Wildlife Rehabilitators. She lives in Glen Ellen. If you have questions or would like to ask her about our local wildlife, please email her at

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