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Posted by Veronica Sooley on November 16, 2017

Safari West: After the Fire

Posted by Veronica Sooley on November 16, 2017
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  • Three giraffes at Safari West in Santa Rosa, picture
    Photo credit
    Photo Courtesy of Safari West
    Photo caption
    Less than a week after the Tubbs fire started, three giraffes stand amidst a smoke-filled backdrop.
  • a cheetah lounges on the ground at Safari West in Santa Rosa, picture
    Photo credit
    Photo Courtesy of Safari West
    Photo caption
    A cheetah, one of Safari West's 1,000 animal residents, lounges near a scorched portion of the park's grounds.
  • a fire truck in front of a fenced enclosure of flamingos at Safari West in Santa Rosa, picture
    Photo credit
    Photo Courtesy of Safari West
    Photo caption
    A fire truck passes through Safari West's flamingo enclosure on October 13, 2017.
  • a staff member at Safari West feeds two giraffes, picture
    Photo credit
    Photo Courtesy of Safari West
    Photo caption
    Just days after the Tubbs fire began, core staff members returned to Safari West to tend to the animals.
  • an enclosure of animals, including a giraffe, at Safari West in Santa Rosa, picture
    Photo credit
    Photo: Veronica Sooley
    Photo caption
    Safari West as it looked before the fire. The wildlife preserve spans 400 acres.

It’s been a little over a month since wildfires ravaged Northern California, burning several hundred square miles and destroying nearly 9,000 structures. The bulk of the destruction occurred in Santa Rosa, where the Tubbs fire ripped through major residential areas on October 8 and 9.

One place of particular public interest and concern was Safari West, a 400-acre wildlife preserve 11 miles north of downtown Santa Rosa. More than 1,000 exotic animals—including giraffes, cheetahs, and zebras—currently call this sanctuary home.

Peter Lang, 77, opened the preserve with his wife, Nancy, in 1993. Since then, it has blossomed into a refuge for both people and animals alike, entertaining and educating thousands of guests every year. The story of what the animals and owner Peter Lang endured during the Tubbs fire is truly remarkable.

Rescue Operation

At about 10 p.m. on October 8, Brian Jellison, the head mechanic at Safari West, drove through burning embers to wake the Langs at their home, only one mile from Safari West, and advise them of the fast-approaching fire. “It felt like we were running for our lives,” said Jellison. The Langs immediately rushed to Safari West to make sure the 30 overnight guests and staff were safely evacuated. Handlers were able to gather some small birds, the only animals they could secure and transport in minutes.


While everyone else evacuated to safety, Peter Lang stayed behind, determined to save all 1,000 animals. “I do believe in souls, and all these critters have souls," said Lang. "It was my responsibility to save those souls." Armed with only a garden hose and a water-soaked hooded sweatshirt to protect against stray embers, Lang started putting out hot spots that threatened the grounds. He spent the night dousing small fires and coaxing hyenas and other animals from one enclosure to another to protect them from encroaching flames.

In the end, not a single animal was lost to the fire. The Langs, however, lost their home. When asked about making the tough call to leave his own home to try and save the animals, Lang replied, “It wasn’t even a decision. This is what I had to do.” Peter and Nancy Lang have since moved into a residence on the Safari West grounds and find comfort in being surrounded by their beloved animals.

Recovery and Reopening

Though the road leading to Safari West is paved with devastation, the preserve appears almost untouched. Visitors on a safari will see only some minor scorched areas around the far perimeter, thanks to Lang’s firefighting efforts and a lot of luck.

Safari West plans to reopen for safari tours on November 20, and will begin welcoming overnight guests again in March 2018. The tent cabins sustained smoke damage, requiring additional cleaning time.

For those wondering what they can do to help, Safari West is hosting a “We are all Children of the Earth” benefit on Saturday, December 2, to raise money for the Safari West Wildlife Foundation. The funds raised will help to rebuild the Research, Education, and Conservation Department and the Zoology Lab, two educational structures lost to the fires, as well as two vehicles used for school visits. The key mission at Safari West is to actively promote conservation and environmental education; financial support makes the recovery and future of these programs possible.

For more information, visit safariwest.com.