As of Monday afternoon, 221 animals including horses, cows and even a white peacock were staying at Daly City’s Cow Palace after being rescued from the CZU Lightning Complex fires.

The facility got word from San Mateo County officials Wednesday afternoon that it might be needed as an evacuation site for large animals. By Thursday, the necessary preparations had been made.

Temporary horse stables were erected in the main parking lot and multiple pens for smaller animals were installed inside. A larger cow pen already existed on the property and is also being put to use.

“We were pretty ready when they called us,” said Lori Marshall, CEO of the Cow Palace. “This is what we do. We do events, we have a livestock show and we put on a rodeo so our staff is very accustomed to getting ready quickly with whatever needs people have.”

The first animal guests arrived on Friday and are being watched, fed and otherwise cared for by a group of experienced volunteers for free. Marshall has no idea how many more animals to expect moving forward, but she and her staff are ready for whoever arrives.

“Here we’ll never run out of space. Our facility is so large — it’s 78 acres — and we have so many resources through our network and through all the different events we do here,” she said.

About 300 temporary horse stalls have been erected and another 400 are on hand if needed, she said. About as many livestock pens are also on standby.

Marshall said 17 fairgrounds in California, including the Cow Palace, are currently being used as an evacuation site or as a base camp for firefighters.

“Fairgrounds are known for being evacuation sites. It’s just part of our makeup and our mission to be there for the community,” she said. Often such sites are also used as temporary shelter for people forced to evacuate, but not this year because of coronavirus concerns. People fleeing fires are instead being put up in hotels.

As of Monday at the Cow Palace there were 36 horses, 68 cattle, one pig, four peacocks, 53 chickens, 54 goats, one donkey and four lamas — all from fire zones.

The owners had written contact information on the sides of some animals or on the hooves of horses in case they got lost. One horse had an identification card braided into its mane.

The animals were brought to the Cow Palace by trained volunteers with the group San Mateo County Large Animal Evacuation Group. After receiving a call by the animal’s owner, the group arranges for trailers if needed and the animals are quickly brought to safety.

“This has been great, it was absolutely seamless and we came down and found them and everything was fine,” said Maurine Earley, whose horse was boarded at Ciara West Equestrian ranch, located on Skyline Boulevard in Woodside, before being brought to the Cow Palace. “I don’t know what I would’ve done without this.”

While an evacuation warning had not yet been announced when they left, Earley and others with horses at Ciara West decided to evacuate their animals due to the thick smoke.

“The smoke was so thick up there that if lightning had struck the ground anywhere near the barn we wouldn’t have seen it until it was way too late,” said Lisa Frey, who also boards her horse at Ciara West. The lightning that caused the CZU Lightning Complex fires also started a small fire at Ciara West, but it was promptly extinguished by firefighters, Frey said. 

A total of 1,472 animals have been evacuated from the CZU Lightning Complex fires. While larger animals are being taken to the Cow Palace, smaller ones, including dogs and cats, have been taken in by the Peninsula Humane Society.

As of Monday, 80 pets were staying at the nonprofit’s Coyote Point Shelter in San Mateo. PHS staff have also rescued wild and domesticated animals, including squirrels, geese and chickens, from fire zones.

(650) 344-5200 ext. 102

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