Alpacas Find Refuge on Zuma Beach During California Fires: 'We Need a Miracle'
As three devastating California wildfires raged across the state, Zuma Beach became a temporary refuge for many horses, llamas and alpacas.
The makeshift evacuation center on the beach became the designated area for keeping large animals safe, after over a quarter of a million people who were in harm’s way were forced to flee their properties.
Evacuation proved to be incredibly difficult for Big Heart Ranch, which homes rescued horses, donkey, deer, alpaca, chickens, ducks and rabbits.
“At certain points you couldn’t see through the smoke, which was worse than any of my experiences,” Volunteer Program Director Denise DeGarmo recalls to PEOPLE of evacuating the ranch. “The people, who took them from the ranch, which was covered in fire, took them to Zuma.”
Once volunteers brought the alpacas to the beach, authorities promptly told them to evacuate the area immediately.
“The thinking was to tie them close to the water because that won’t catch on fire,” she says.
Early Friday morning, the ranch posted a plea on Facebook asking if anyone in the area could help “transport about 10 goats and two alpacas.”
While DeGarmo says the ranch had half a dozen trailers and trucks ready to transport the alpacas from the beach, they did not have the right clearance to access the area.
“We need a miracle!!! We have evac trailers coming to ZUMA BCH but HWY patrol won’t let them thru. Plz plz pray that they can get access to the rest of our herd,” the ranch wrote on Facebook.
Later that evening, chilling images of Big Heart Ranch’s alpacas (Luke and Thunder) secured to a lifeguard stand surfaced on social media.
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“All of the animals were evacuated from Big Heart Ranch in Malibu. These last 3 are still missing. Two alpaca and a mini horse. They were left on Zuma Beach tower 12,” Big Heart Ranch wrote on Saturday afternoon in a Facebook post.
On Monday morning, Big Heart Ranch confirmed to PEOPLE all of their animals have been found and are safe.
“They are in Simi Valley and we will all reunite ASAP,” the ranch wrote on Facebook. “Words cannot express the immense gratitude we have for all of the prayers, support, calls and concern that our sweet transformative ranch and amazing therapy animals have received!!!”
“My only concern was getting those animals to safety and making sure they get back to their other animal friends and home,” Alexandra Suhl, who coordinated the alpacas’ transport, tells PEOPLE. “I was just overwhelmed and extremely grateful that our babies are safe.”
The ranch is dedicated to providing therapeutic interaction for children, families, veterans and those healing from trauma. As they rebuild their lives and ranch, you can provide donations for shelter, food, and medical attention.