CASPER, Wyo. — In five minutes, Jim Swingholm and a neighbor watched the fire on the back of Casper Mountain move 300 feet. By the time he drove home 1-1/4 miles away, the fire had come over the hill and was heading toward his barn and house.
Swingholm’s 40-acre property is also home to nine miniature horses, a full-sized horse, two donkeys and two llamas. He and his sons stayed up all night to drench his barn and home using fire hoses. Volunteers and friends helped transport the large animals to safety.
“We had some wonderful people, and a lot of help. One gal drove from Douglas to help load horses. She did a great job,” Swingholm said.
Hundreds of people have evacuated since the Sheepherder fire started Sunday afternoon. What is not known is how many pets and livestock may be affected.
“If you are being evacuated, please don’t leave your animals,” said Lisa Craft, founder and president of Paws2Help in Casper, a foundation that supports homeless animals. “We have lots and lots of people who are standing by, ready to take your cats, dogs, birds, reptiles, horses or whatever animals you have.”
After seeing smoke on Casper Mountain about 4:30 p.m. Sunday, Craft and Paws2Help volunteers started the Casper Mnt Fire Rescue Relay Page on Facebook. The page is coordinating efforts by several Casper animal groups — including the Pet Ring Foundation, which provides money for veterinary care for animals; Tempest Critter Rescue and The Hector Foundation — to find shelter, food and other needs for animals displaced by the fire.
By Monday afternoon, Craft had fielded nearly 700 calls from people who wanted to foster animals, who had fenced pasture for livestock or who had horse trailers for transporting animals out of the fire’s path. The Facebook page had also gotten hundreds of comments.
“We’ve had an overwhelming response from the community. It’s just heartwarming and kind of restores your faith in humanity. We’ve had people from Sheridan bring supplies, people calling willing take in whole families and their animals. Be we just don’t know who needs help right now,” Craft said.
No one has been able to track how many pets or livestock have been affected by the fire. Some people likely found homes for their pets with family or friends, and the Casper Humane Society hadn’t taken calls from evacuees early Monday, said Angela Letz, shelter manager. If needed, the shelter had limited room for cats, dogs and small animals.
The Central Wyoming Fairgrounds is housing some larger animals, so long as they have a health certificate certifying that they don’t have contagious diseases, said Mia Dodd, administrative assistant at the fairgrounds. She expected the number of animals might grow as the Hat Six area was evacuated.
But Craft and others want to be ready if the need arises.
“This is the best organization that we’ve seen out of the local rescues,” said Sheila Amir, co-captain of The Hector Foundation, a nonprofit that works to raise money for animal shelters and groups.
The Hector Foundation on Monday collected pet supplies — water dishes, food, kennels, etc. — and donations at the Casper Events Center and Galloway’s Pub.
“Right now the majority of the money is going toward buying hay for horses. Hay is at an all-time high, and those are the main animals that are being affected,” Amir said.
Money would also be used to vaccinate animals against kennel cough or other communicable diseases if large numbers of animals need to be boarded together.
If more people have to evacuate, and if animals are displaced, the groups will continue to collect food, supplies and money via Facebook. Craft’s concern is that evacuees may not know there is help.
As for Swingholm, he decided Sunday that he would not leave his animals behind. He stayed up all night fighting to save his house and finding transportation for his animals. Most of the large animals had been hauled away by 6:15 a.m. and the last left Monday afternoon. The dogs stayed with Swingholm, because he knew he only needed to load them in his truck if he needed to flee.
His front grass pasture is burned and most of the property behind his house is black. Monday, he made a deal to give all the miniature horses to a man who could take care of them. He found a buyer for the horse.
“With the chance of fire up here, I’m going to do everything I can to find permanent homes for all of them,” Swingholm said.