Chic Miller is a 65-year-old, 100-pound animal-rescuing dynamo with cropped blond hair, a broad smile, and clear blue eyes that squint shut as she throws her head back and laughs.
Miller was in her glory Friday afternoon at the fire safety meeting she and her 75-year-old husband, Bob Miller, host this time each year at the couple’s animal sanctuary, Bella Vista Farms. Their Cottonwood property, located on the outskirts of Igo off Lower Gas Point Road, offers food, shelter, love and medical care for about 600 animals, from tiny injured birds to Cody, a 2,000-pound rehabbed steer.
Shasta County Sheriff Tom Bosenko accepted the Millers’ invitation to speak at the fire-safety meeting, as did Shasta County District 2 Supervisor Leonard Moty, and the new Haven Humane Society CEO, Mark Storrey, accompanied by one of his animal control officers. Additional speakers were Linda Galvan, a CAL FIRE fire prevention specialist, and Bruce Alexander, president of the Redding Rodeo.
After each speaker finished, the audience applauded, and when they did, many of the animals joined in with their noises, as if on cue.
For what Chic Miller referred to jokingly as a “hand holding” meeting, the working farm turned into a place where neighbors enjoyed food and conversation under the shade of the oaks while a large, one-legged male turkey checked out the guests as he made a congested chug-chug sound. Somebody mentioned that he’s especially frisky this time of year, you know, spring and all.
As much fun as the farm is to visit, the dozens of people who gathered there Friday were there to gear up for a potentially deadly fire season for not just humans, but scores of animals that far outnumber people in this rural area of Shasta County.
The fire safety meeting’s purpose was to inform and help – before a fire.
Miller spoke first. She had no trouble projecting her voice over screaming peacocks, gobbling turkeys, braying donkeys, crowing roosters, barking dogs, clucking chickens, mooing cattle, and cooing pigeons.
“I thought I knew what to do in a fire, but it turns out I did everything wrong,” she said, referring to a fire in the Igo/Cottonwood area a few years back.
She shared tips, such as having boots on standby for escaping a fire, not tennis shoes that can melt when walked over hot embers. And have a battery-powered lantern handy to put on a fence post so emergency crews will know which house is yours at night. She also said that at Bella Vista Farms, there are sprinklers on top of all the buildings, so they can be turned on in the event of a fire to wet down the property and help protect the animals.
She talked about one of her most guarded possessions, her Red Book that contains names, addresses, cell numbers, work numbers and information about scores of humans and animals who live in the surrounding area, all reachable by Chic Miller in an emergency.
Some of the people whose names are in that book attended the meeting, and represented Gas Point Road, Zogg Mine Road, Rainbow Lake Road, Thomas Road and Platina Road.
CAL FIRE representative Linda Galvan spoke next, and started by saying that by the day’s end about 37 firefighters would be ready to start head for work, which is about a month sooner than normal, done so in anticipation of extra-dry conditions that could cause fires earlier than usual.
She encouraged the group to create a defensible space around property, and to remember that when clearing land, “lawn mowers are for lawn, and weed eaters are for weeds,” because a lawn mower blade can spark on a rock and cause a fire. And in those cases, she said, the property owners could be held liable for fire suppression costs. Galvan reminded people that “even a whisper of a breeze” could ignite a small spark thrown off from such a equipment as grinders and chain saws.
Before a fire breaks out, everyone in the family should know locations to meet, and irreplaceable items should be kept in an area where they are quickly and easily collect, she said.
And in the event there is a fire, she said, and law enforcement says you’re being evacuated, everyone should get out, and go the way they’ve been told, not some other route where vehicles may be trapped. Aside from putting residents’ lives at risk, staying to defend a home can also endanger firefighters, she said.
“Pack photos, prescriptions, important papers … if you have kids, pack those too,” she said with a laugh.
The new Haven Humane Society CEO, Mark Storrey, talked mostly about fire and animals. He said it’s important to rehearse putting horses and other animals in trailers, well before an emergency.
“The time to load a horse in a trailer for the first time is not during a fire,” he said. He suggested for smaller animals, grabbing food, cages and their meds, too.
In the case of a fire, animals are not usually allowed in evacuation centers, so there are various areas areas for animals set up during emergencies, like the Shasta District Fairgrounds, and the Bella Vista Farms, and other properties where people are willing to board animals short-term.
Storrey said it’s important that animals – dogs, horses, goats, anything – have tags with information for easy reuniting and identification later.
Sheriff Bosenko told the crowd that with regard to fire, it’s not a matter of if, but when. He asked people to make their home addresses clearly marked so that emergency vehicles can see the address, even at night. He suggested a go-bag, all packed with a change of clothes, important phone numbers and meds, and recommended a portable fire-resistant box in which to keep things like insurance papers and home deeds.
Regarding animals, he reiterated the importance of marking animals, so in the event they’re lost or relocated during a fire, owners can identify them. He recalled one year that a horse showed up with a phone number painted on the animal, which made it easy to locate its owners.
Bruce Alexander, president of the Redding Rodeo, said his main message was to give people peace of mind to know that if they’re evacuated, there’s room at the Redding Rodeo grounds for about 100 horses, and some smaller animals, too. He said the rodeo has access to board small herds, and can arrange to have animals relocated to other pastures until the danger has passed.
“We’re here to help,” he said. (As an aside, he mentioned the upcoming rodeo on May 15 through May 18, and said the Redding Rodeo is one of the top 25 rodeos in the nation.)
Leonard Moty was the final speaker, and he opened his remarks by reminding everyone that the Shasta County Board of Supervisors opposed the fire tax fee and would continue to fight it. He said that as their District 2 supervisor, he would listen to their concerns and he would fix things as best as he could. As an example, he pointed out the trees trimmed on Gas Point, after someone complained that the arching branches over the road looked like a fire hazard and a perfect way to help fires jump the road.
Moty’s list about the positive things he’d implemented – trimmed brush, new road base near the Igo post office … – were derailed by impassioned comments by a few people who voiced their concerns about a property owner who’d been letting cattle out onto the road. (Note, anewscafe.com’s Catherine Camp recently addressed that topic here.)
Moty said he was aware of the situation, and that legally, with the long-standing open-range laws, he and his team had yet to find a feasible solution.
That wrapped up the meeting, until next year. Some people said their goodbyes. Others lingered, swapped conversation and tried to avoid the love-sick turkey.
But everyone had the same hope, that the 2013 fire season would remain far, far away.
Note: Chic and Bob Miller’s Bella Vista Farms is in constant need of funds to help provide food and medical supplies, as well as pet food. Donations made to sent to Bella Vista Farms, 4301 Lower Gas Point Road, Cottonwood, CA 96022. The Millers are extremely busy, so they cannot entertain drop-in guests, please. To contact the Millers, call 347-0544.
Independent online journalist Doni Chamberlain founded what’s now known as anewscafe.com in 2007 with her son, Joe Domke of the Czech Republic. Prior to 2007 Chamberlain was an award-winning newspaper opinion columnist, feature and food writer recognized by the Associated Press, the California Newspaper Publishers Association and E.W. Scripps. She lives in Redding, CA.