PETALUMA, Calif. - A gathering in Petaluma Wednesday brought together recent fire evacuees and the strangers who saved their animals.
NorCal Livestock Evacuation is made up of more than 100 volunteers with access to trucks, trailers, barns and pastures.
Livestock is sometimes overlooked in emergencies, but not by these volunteers.
"We had to get some fish and a bird out of a house, and we had to break in to get them, with the owner's permission of course," said group founder Shelina Moreda, describing a rescue during the Kincade Fire in October.
"Our motto is big or small we haul them all. Literally, we've gotten yaks, a flying squirrel, those wild cats ocelots, those wild cats, even koi, " said Moreda.
Flames aren't the only threats to pets and livestock. Roadblocks and power outages keep people away too.
"If they can't get in to water and feed their animals their animals are still in danger," noted Moreda.
More than 100 people gathered at the Petaluma Fairgrounds, part fund-raising dinner, and part reunion.
Volunteers mingled and many were finally able to meet the evacuees whose animals they saved.
"I was out of town, and he was so nice on the phone, while I was crying that I didn't want people to die for my goats," said Shannon Johnson of Windsor.
Johnson was able to reminisce with volunteer Casey Goltermann.
"That night he said it's fine, it's all good, calm down, I'm here and I'll get your goats."
Goltermann was also gratified to chat with Johnson under calmer conditions.
"When you're able to reunite a dog or a cat or any animal with a homeowner, it's just such an overwhelming experience for everybody," said Goltermann.
The Kincade Fire six weeks ago was the group's most recent mobilization, but the network has relocated animals across Lake and Butte counties as well.
NorCal Livestock Evac was formed during Sonoma County's Tubbs Fire in 2017, when a stranded horse needed rescue and more than a dozen people showed up.
They sometimes face hurdles, accessing evacuation and fire zones, but first responders are increasingly aware of the work they do.
"Animals add another layer of complexity to the emergency," said Petaluma Fire Dept. Battalion Chief Chad Costa.
"We realize that some people won't leave without them, so we try to get them and the animals out, but these volunteers are the true heroes."
At the event, evacuees were encouraged to write personal messages, sharing their fire stories and expressing their gratitude.
"They are amazing, we don't have a trailer and when they came we were cryng, just so thankful they were there to help us," said Kincade evacuee Krissy Klein, holding a photo of her rescued llama, Dolly.
Founder Moreda said the committment from her volunteers runs deep.
"Their hearts are in it, they want to save animals and help the community so there's this crazy bond," said Moreda, "our name is Nor Cal Livestock Evacuation but our nickname is Team Badass!"