Silicon Valley software engineer raises money to save Sonoma sanctuary animals

A software engineer in Silicon Valley is raising money to help a wildlife preserve in Sonoma County affected by the wildfire. Miraculously, all 1,000 animals at Safari West were saved, but the owner and employees’ homes were not. So far, the engineer has raised nearly $50,000.

Mate Varga visited Safari West only once and has never fundraised before. However, when he heard about the fire, he didn’t hesitate to help.

Varga will never forget his overnight stay at Safari West back in October of 2014. He calls it one of the top 10 family trips of his life.

“It was just amazing to see how they have a little safari in California,” said Varga.

When he heard about the firestorm that hit Santa Rosa, he immediately thought of it.

“That’s where Safari West is,” said Varga. “Oh no, what about the animals?”

The exotic mammals and birds were in good hands. 77-year-old owner Peter Lang stayed behind putting out spot fires with garden hose while his own house burned down.

“I saw this and thought this isn't right,” said Varga. “This isn't cool. This guy probably worked his entire life to see this type of thing come together and to protect the animals at his own expense.”

Tired of seeing disasters on the news and not doing anything, Varga started a Go Fund Me campaign initially for the owner to rebuild his house. The owner didn't want the money. He wanted it to go to 11 of his employees who lost their homes.

“Him and his wife are so altruistic where he said don't focus on me, I’m a business owner, I’m insured but my staff there the ones that need the help,” said Varga.

“Miracle is one word we've used,” said Safari West Executive Director Keo Hornbostel. “I don't know of a better word to use. It's truly stunning.”

Hornbostel said the fire came raging over a hill, blowing over the top of the ranch. Eleven employees homes on the grounds and the owner's four homes were destroyed. With the donations, Safari West gave checks worth $3,000 to the employees in need.

“To give money from people you don't even know it feels good,” said Hornbostel. “Handing out these checks to these employees these last two days they are overwhelmed.”

Overwhelmed by the generosity, Varga knows it's not a lot but it's something to make their lives a little easier.

“In all the chaos that must be going on these people have a little bit of hope that hey your house may have burned down but as humanity we're trying to look out for you,” said Varga.

The power is still out and the main road is closed. Safari West hopes to open its tours in two weeks or when it's safe to do so.

If you’d like to help here’s a link to the Go Fund Me page: