As California Wildfire Neared, A Family Raced To Save Its Animals | KGOU

As California Wildfire Neared, A Family Raced To Save Its Animals

Nov 1, 2019
Originally published on November 1, 2019 12:06 pm

Samantha Hull had less than 30 minutes to pack up her life.

As powerful winds drove the Tick Fire through acres of dry brush hills encircling Hull's family's farm in Canyon Country, a community within the Los Angeles County city of Santa Clarita, Hull was thinking about how she could get her animals to safety.

Hull, 24, and her partner, Sammi Lanthier, 29, were living on the small farm, affectionately nicknamed "La Granja" ("farm" in Spanish). It sat atop a canyon and was home to about 80 animals, including dogs, birds and livestock. Hull and Lanthier raised a sheep named Gwen by bottle and set up an oasis for their birds over the years.

La Granja Farm was completely destroyed in the Tick Fire last week. The fire moved fast through Santa Clarita, forcing 50,000 people and their pets to evacuate.
Allison Zaucha

But on Oct. 24, a devastating wildfire broke out in Southern California, forcing some 50,000 residents to evacuate. Since the Tick Fire started, it has scorched more than 4,600 acres and damaged more than 70 homes and buildings. A week later, the blaze was 94% contained.

When the flames charged up the hills, engulfing their home, Hull and Lanthier were able to rescue only 20 animals, including Gwen and Cupid, their 100-pound pot-bellied pig.

Hull and her partner, Sammi Lanthier, had lived on their farm, called La Granja, in Santa Clarita for three years. They lost almost everything in the fire, including the ashes of Hull's grandmother who died last year.
Allison Zaucha

Hull would watch her home of three years burn to the ground.

That afternoon, Hull had been at work in Valencia, about a 20-minute drive from the farm, when a co-worker received a warning on her phone that emergency services were responding to a fire in Tick Canyon. The canyon is just 5 miles from Hull's farm.

She raced home to corral as many of her animals as she could and get them into a van. She then took the first of many perilous trips. Despite the 3 p.m. daylight, the smoky air and a power shutoff exacerbated the mission. Because of the high-wind forecast, Southern California Edison had preemptively turned off the electricity as a preventive measure to reduce the risk that the power company equipment might ignite another fire.

"We were running through a pitch-black house trying to grab animals," Hull said.

By about 3:30, the house had caught fire. The family left behind most personal belongings.

Hull and Lanthier are now staying with Hull's father indefinitely in Palmdale, Calif., less than an hour away.

Cupid, a 100-pound pot-bellied pig who got lost and survived the fire, returned to his farm in Santa Clarita on Oct. 25.
Allison Zaucha

On Wednesday, Hull returned to the farm to look for her missing dog, Casey. Rubble dominated the scene.

"I feel so detached," she said, noting that she has become increasingly aware of the fire risks posed to the arid grass valleys of Southern California.

Hull said she had been preparing for a fire emergency since last year. "I've been looking to move to a place outside of this hill," she said. "It feels like a lot of this is preventable."

Hull carries metal to help contain her pig and bring him away from the destroyed property.
Allison Zaucha

Hull said she had queued up kennels and animal crates in case of such a fire emergency. None of those resources had arrived at the property before the flames took over.

Hull says she didn't hear about the evacuation orders until 5:30 p.m., about an hour after they were issued. By then, the flames had already engulfed her house.

A dozen birds survived the fire at La Granja.
Allison Zaucha

Hull is still reeling from the escape. Her anxiety in the aftermath has driven her to take multiple trips to the doctor.

"I've had panic attacks all week," she said, "just from not knowing if we're ever going to be safe again."

Lanthier and Hull pause for a moment while picking up some of their livestock that didn't make it out of the fire on Thursday. The two, who had about 80 animals, were able to rescue only 20 because of the fast-moving flames.
Allison Zaucha

She says she has fire insurance, but "It's not going to bring back my dog."

Hull and Lanthier had hoped to buy their own place soon, although their options seem to be narrowing in California. Living far from the threat of wildfires and close to their animals is at the front of their minds.

Allison Zaucha is a photojournalist based in Los Angeles.

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