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Ventura County alpaca ranchers wait out Guiberson wildfire

September 24, 2009 |  1:58 pm

When the Guiberson fire in Ventura County reached alpaca ranchers Cindy Harris and Doug Fieg's street in Somis on Tuesday, the couple were ready for it.

Harris and Fieg had attempted to evacuate back in 2003, when they were operating a ranch in Moorpark and it was threatened by fire.  They only had 150 alpacas then -- as opposed to some 400 today -- but the experience was still an awful one, owing to the timid, delicate nature of alpacas. 

"It's a lot more like handling wild deer than a domestic animal," Harris told our colleague Alexandra Zavis.  Stress from activities like being moved away from flames in a livestock trailer can even cause the alpacas to spontaneously abort fetuses or develop ulcers, Harris said.

After the experience in Moorpark, Harris and Fieg decided they wouldn't try to attempt an alpaca evacuation (try saying "attempt an alpaca evacuation" five times fast) should their current facility be threatened by wildfire. 

This time around, the couple decided to stay put (much like another large-scale animal facility, the Shambala big cat sanctuary in Acton, did when the Station fire approached recently).  Rather than evacuate, they herded all 400 alpacas into pastures in the center of the 25-acre ranch -- a process that took all night -- and turned on the irrigation system.  The plan seems to have worked; Harris told Zavis that the animals seem happy today, and firefighters have been working hard to keep the flames from reaching the ranch.  So far, their efforts have worked, and the wildfire remains uncomfortably close but "has stayed on the other side of the street," Harris said.  And there's more good news: A baby alpaca was even born in the midst of the chaos.

-- Lindsay Barnett

Video: Los Angeles Times

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