As fires threaten huge swaths of the Pacific Northwest, many equestrians in northern Oregon are facing evacuation. On Sept. 7, DevonWood Equestrian Centre, a dressage barn and competition venue in Sherwood, Oregon, opened its doors for those fleeing the fires. Over the course of a week, the venue has housed more than 300 evacuated animals. Though some have returned home, others are still waiting for the all-clear. Noah Rattner, general manager at DevonWood and an announcer at the Winter Equestrian Festival (Florida), the Tryon International Equestrian Center (North Carolina) and the Adequan West Coast Dressage Festival (California), shared his experience coordinating evacuees arriving at his family’s facility alongside his sister Jessica Rattner and twin brother Evin Rattner.
On Sunday or Monday we started getting a heads up from the meteorologists here in the Pacific Northwest that conditions were going to be just perfect for potential fires, and [they] said that the region was going to be impacted pretty severely, and this is what to expect.
I sat down with my barn manager and with other members of my team and said here’s what we’re looking at right now and how it’s going to impact our barn and our boarders. Between our boarding facility stalls and our show stalls we have just over 300 stalls on site. My intent was if we got to the point where we were not in an evacuation zone ourselves, [we could] position ourselves as being a resource for the community to evacuate and have a safe facility [for those who had to evacuate to] be able to come here and seek refuge.
I put a post up on DevonWood’s Facebook account [on Monday evening, Sept. 7]. It’s just been a really great tool to communicate to the equestrian community here in the Northwest.
Our first evacuees came on Monday just after midnight. I think our first group was nine or 10 horses, and it was a local dressage barn that we know really well. They were in a Level 3 evacuation, which is the highest level for our state’s guidelines, so that’s a “Go Now!” I got the phone call from them; I said, “Come. Don’t ask questions. Get your horses safely here, get your horses loaded, and we’ll deal with everything else when you get here.”
Where we’re positioned in Tualatin Valley, there were fires west of us, and there were fires east of and fires south of us, so we started fielding phone calls on Tuesday. Kind of mid-day we really started to accelerate the quantity and volume of people who were headed our way. I think by the end of the day on Tuesday we probably had close to 100 evacuees.
We basically turned [our horse show office] into our operation control room, and there were four of us using our horse show hotline as our dispatch, so people could call in. All of us [were] working together on a Google Drive sharing the document in real time as we’re loading the details of who the evacuee is, where they’re coming from, what they’ve got with them, and what we’re trying to match them with. The evacuees kept rolling in pretty much all night Wednesday. The last overnight evacuee rolled in around 4:30 in the morning.
[Sunday, Sept. 13] was the last day that we took a new evacuee, and we started seeing [evacuees leave] about two days ago. The large amount of fires that were going in Washington County, which is the county that DevonWood sits in, have been fully contained, so their regions are back to Level 0 or just normal. The fires that are in Clackamas County, which is kind of southeast of us, those are the ones that are still in an active fire with Level 3. They can’t go back to their homes. That’s the bulk of who we have left now.
At one point our headcount was just over 300 animals total. We’ve seen horses and mini ponies and mares with foal. There are four sheep; there’s a flock of chickens, and then we’ve got goats and alpacas and llamas. We’re down to about 180 [as of Sept. 14].
We have a lot of great partners within our local business community that DevonWood works with for our horse shows as well as for our boarding venue. One of our big donors was Wilco Farm Stores. I connected with my contact [at the store in Newberg, Oregon,] and said we’re going to need a lot of bedding and water buckets because we have people who are showing up who don’t have any of those resources. They shipped me about 100 water buckets, and they sent me 14 pallets of bedding with 36 bags on each one [that were all donated]. That really got us started as far as taking care of the animals that we were receiving. Pretty much every day since then we’ve gotten another six pallets of bedding.
We have two or three local veterinarians who were evacuated here with their personal horses and their own barns, and those veterinarians have gotten their horses and their animals situated and immediately turned around and told us that if there were any smoke inhalation issues or any animals that were injured during the evacuation process or needed to be seen by a veterinarian that they would volunteer their services while they were here.
One of those is an [Fédération Equestre Internationale] vet, Dr. Barb Crabbe. She and her vet tech are here evacuated with their own horses, and she’s been doing great liaising with different pharmaceutical supply companies and getting sedation drugs and getting nebulizing equipment sent and anything that the animals might need to be comfortable and safe throughout this process. She’s deploying herself as one of the local qualified veterinarians.
My sister Jessica [a former dressage professional who now works for Nike] lives in Newberg as well and is really well connected in the food scene. Jessica got in contact with a restaurant called Ruddick/Wood. Twice a day they’re bringing boxed meals. We’ve turned our show office basically into the evacuee kitchen. So there’s snack food, and there are drinks, and then there’s whatever the entrée is. We’re really able to help take care of everyone who’s here.
We’ve got great donors that are helping support us and supply us like Ruddick/Wood, Renegade Food Truck, Coffee Cat Coffeehouse, Grand Central Bakery, LMF Feeds/AFCO, Wilco Farm Stores, AAEP, Sound Equine Options and Outlaw Equine Transport. [But we’re funding expenses] related to manure removal, daily servicing of porta potties and the bedding component that’s not being donated. We’re working right now with the Oregon Dressage Society to align ourselves with them so that there’s a nonprofit that can accept donations that will help us offset these expenses.
As we’re serving the community in this capacity right now as a safe haven, we haven’t charged any person coming with animals any board or any fees to be here. Every time somebody asks us what the invoice is or how much they’re going to have to pay, we tell them that this is something the community is rallying together to support them through this crisis. There will be a relief portal set up at some time in the near future, and if they have the financial capacity to contribute to it they’re welcome to do so, but there’s no obligation to do so.
I’ve already had checks start trickling in through the mail between $500 and $1,000 of people just saying please use this for supplies and resources and whatever expenses you guys are incurring as a result of this—people are actively looking to engage in donations.