Fire and Losses
Yesterday afternoon I didn’t feel like spending my lunch at the cottage, so I grabbed some snacks from my cabin and walked up to Camelot rock to sit for a while. When I got up there I could see three bush fires in the distance. One looked a bit worrying but as I watched I could see Dan on his new motorbike driving up the mountain to get a closer look. I moved farther up the mountain and wandered through the debris from the last fire we fought here (at least 10 brush fires have come within view of the foundation in the past few weeks, dry season is serious business here). I spent about an hour watching the fires, which seemed a reasonable distance away, then went to see the babies.
Lily came by the babies to tell Dan she would take over babies if he would go check the fire again as she could see the flames from tent village. As lunch was over Dan said Dave was there watching it, but soon after got a call telling us to fill up sprayers and watering cans. I took over doing a quick check of the sickbay monkeys while Lily and the guys went off to fight the fire, which at this point I thought was still a reasonable distance away.
Overhearing the talk between the guys on the radio we could tell things weren’t quite as under control as we would have liked. I was wandering around giving rescue remedy to the stressed monkeys and handing out mainfeed to sickbay at the time so I don’t have a first hand view of the beginning of the fire, but as I went to check on Gabi at the babies they started panicking and a huge smoke cloud blew into their enclosure so I went in to calm them and put up blankets. Luckily the people at the lodge had been called back and Hollie (the babies ‘mom’) came in to quickly calm them down so I got out to go check the fire.
The flames were so big and so much ash and smoke flying around that Josie and I walked up and down the inner side of Camelot (a troop of around 100 wild monkeys) to check that no sparks had blown into the enclosure to start a fire. I told her I would walk up the far end past the rock and as I came around the road between Camelot and the horse farm I could see that the fire had reached the enclosure. Everyone with beaters and sprayers ran into the enclosure the try to keep it from spreading toward the monkeys, who had all ran up to the far end by the rock, but the flames were too high and it was spreading too quickly. As Dan and I watched a couple monkeys ran right across the burning ground in their panic, and the decision was quickly made to shut off the electric fences and open all the gates to let the monkeys free to safety. We couldn’t see more than a handful of monkeys in the trees so we assumed most had jumped out to safety. At that point I started worrying about Thumb’s baby, a little one who had unfortunately been in so many fights it could only get around by bunny hopping. I was hoping it would get out of the flames or another monkey would carry it to safety.
Every single staff member, volunteer, and available worker was there fighting the fire for over 4 hours. Poor Gabi with her broken foot was left to attempt to calm the babies, who had been moved back into Disneyland to protect them from the smoke. The guys were running around keeping the fire at bay with the sprayers and beaters, as everyone else ran about filling watering cans, bowls, wheel barrows, anything we could get our hands on with water to douse the flames and fill the sprayers. I ended up wading into the disgusting algae and dead frog filled pool in the middle of Camelot to fill mainfeed bowls with water as we were all running off of only one water tap.
As we finally seemed to have extinguished the flames, a couple of us started to do a sweep through the enclosure to check for flames or injured monkeys. Walking through the ash and dead trees, everything was grey and smoking and eerily devoid of any signs of life. It felt like what the aftermath of the apocalypse in most movies looks like. It was just… unlike anything I can put into words. Just awful. We made it to the top of Camelot, then turned back to do another sweep back the other direction, and that’s when Joe called out. He had found a body. I ran to where he was and there was a tiny body laying smoking on the ground. I ran and grabbed it up but I knew before I looked it was Thumb’s baby and it hadn’t made it out. As I cradled the tiny charred body in my arms back to sickbay I started sobbing uncontrollably. Poor Gabi was unfortunately in sickbay making milk for the babies when I walked in. She saw me holding the baby and crying and started crying as well. I stood there a minute crying then wrapped the baby in a towel and laid it down and went back to help with the fire again.
We all walked around putting out small flames and looking for the monkeys we had let out until well after the sun had gone down and the bats had come out. When people finally started coming up the cottage everyone looked exhausted. We had had masks for just about everyone there but were still concerned about smoke inhalation. This morning everyone seems fine. I’m feeling a bit worse for wear myself. My legs are scratched all over and splinters everywhere in my feet from running through acacia bushes, as one point without shoes because they were wet and slippery. When the fire first crossed into Camelot I was running to bring water for Dan and my shoes kept slipping and almost falling so I kicked them off and ran through the burning ground barefoot. My feet are sore, but it’s nothing I wouldn’t do again to keep the monkeys safe.
This morning we have people out trying to catch the monkeys we let free and check for any burns that may need to be treated. So far everyone seems amazingly okay.
We lost about 80% of Camelot to the fire. There is no vegetation for them to feed off of now so we will be needing to give them extra food from our already limited supplies.
If anyone can donate anything, any amount no matter how small to help us rebuild and take care of the monkeys please, please, please do. They need it, and it will be so appreciated.
Donations can be given here:
This has been a rough week for the foundation, and any help we can get to start getting things back to normal will be received with great thanks.