Across Okanogan County, volunteers have stepped up to house, feed and comfort pets and horses — and sometimes, their owners, too — displaced by the fires.

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When Mary Provstgaard and her extended clan were forced out of their Okanogan-area homes by fire, there was no way they were going to leave their animals behind.

So Friday morning found them camped out in tents and trucks outside the Red Cross shelter at Brewster High School with two dogs, three cats, four rabbits, two fish, a snake and one tarantula.

Pat Stanton loaded up her two cats when she was rousted out of her home north of Okanogan after midnight. But when she arrived at the shelter at 2:30 a.m., she found that she was welcome, but Sammy and Pancake were not.

The cats were not left out in the cold, though. Across Okanogan County, volunteers have stepped up to house, feed and comfort displaced pets, horses and the animals — and sometimes, their owners, too.

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Stanton found a place for her cats at the Brewster Boys and Girls Club, just across a grassy field from the school. There, Shan Miller and a small, but energetic, group of helpers have taken in nearly four dozen animals over the past several days, including one ferret.

On Friday morning, three lumbering mastiffs were barricaded in the office of the closed swimming pool. When they arrived the day before, the dogs promptly dived in for a dip, Miller said.

The women’s restroom was temporarily given over to Stanton’s cats, stretching their legs after a night in their crates and availing themselves of makeshift litter boxes. “We let the cats take turns in here,” Miller said.

In a quiet backroom, an elderly man with respiratory problems slept hooked up to an oxygen tank, his golden lab tucked under the cot.

“We wanted to have a place where people and their pets can stay together,” said Miller, who cobbled the operation together when she saw the need all around her.

Several area churches and even private residents are also taking in pets or horses.

Volunteers opened up horse stalls and corrals at the Okanogan County Fairgrounds, and are providing food and water.

Kaelyn Marchand has been sleeping there in a trailer, keeping watch on several dozen of her family’s mares, geldings and colts. Their single stallion is caged in a separate trailer.

“We can’t let him out because he fights,” Marchand said.

Horses are the family’s livelihood and their passion.

“That’s all we do, is horses,” Marchand said. “We raise horses. We rodeo. We race horses.”

Her father, brother and other relatives started evacuating animals several days ago. By Thursday night, three separate fires were bearing down on their homes and they put out a call for help transporting horses.

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“It’s amazing the number of friends and family who were out there in a blink of an eye.”

On Friday afternoon, a group from the all-volunteer Washington State Animal Response Team pulled into Brewster and began setting up a temporary animal shelter in the elementary school.

“We’ll have the dogs in the gymnasium, and the cats in a nice, quiet room,” said coordinator Denise Steinkerchner, of Seattle. The goal is to help both pets and evacuees, many of whom are overwhelmed by loss and uncertainty. The animals are stressed out, too.

“They can smell the fire,” Steinkerchner said. “They can feel the tension.”

Everyone loves their pets, but in rural areas, animals are a more integral part of life, said horse trainer Evva Burts, who was hauling a flatbed load of hay to the fairgrounds for her horses.

“Animals fill the void, when there aren’t so many people around,” she said. “They’re not as mean as most people, and they’re easier to read.”

 

Related video: Residents evacuate, volunteer to fight fires

"We just have a lot invested here," says Jim Brown of Okanogan as he prepares to leave his home. With the state's resources tapped, community members are signing up to be volunteer firefighters. Read more. (Bettina Hansen & Lauren Frohne / The Seattle Times)    

Burts evacuated Thursday night when flames crested the ridge above her home north of Okanagan. She brought along a rabbit and two baby chicks, and left a sprinkler running to protect the chickens left behind in the coop. She was also forced to leave a horse too skittish to load in the trailer.

“I’m keeping my fingers crossed that he’s OK,” she said.