The earth beneath Dr. John Madigan's feet had yet to cool as he walked up the driveway of one of hundreds of indistinguishable homes in Santa Rosa, carrying a blue bucket and rope. Everything around him was an ashen skeleton of it's former self.
"It was hot in here," he said, looking around at the wasteland surrounding him. "How would anything survive in here?"
Madigan, a professor at the UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine, arrived in Santa Rosa Thursday morning with a team of students as part of an emergency response unit tasked with rescuing and providing care to animals affected by the wildfires that devastated the area.
"We’re part of what’s called a medical reserve corps," he said. "We get activated via a request from the office of emergency services from the county that needs some assistance. We get our volunteers, team and a faculty member and then we head out with a specific mission to interface with animal services where they know where animals are that need help."
I first met up with John and his team while driving through Santa Rosa, surveying the destruction. I’d come to a road that was blocked by downed power lines, and before I could turn my car around, the crew pulled in behind me. They'd come from a home where a body had been discovered.
"It was a person with a substantial disability that was unable to go," Madigan said.
The team, accompanied by Sonoma County Animal Rescue, was making one last run before the sun began to set. They were checking on a report of a home that, before the fire, had a number of sheep, goats and chickens.
As Madigan made it to the top of the driveway, he saw what he'd been hoping he and his team would find: the animals they'd come to check on were alive.
"That's an animal, with food and water, will get better," Madigan said, smiling.
John and his team performed quick checkups on the animals, looking for signs of infection and injury. Fortunately, they were all healthy, and didn’t need to be taken in for further evaluation.
"It's real good news," Madigan said. "That's why you keep looking, because you can't predict which house gets saved here, as you may note from going around. You'd think there all gone, but there are a few that are staying there right in the middle of this and it's the same with the animals."