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Strategy to protect alpacas from Ventura County fire works

With 400 animals, Cindy Harris and Doug Fieg decided evacuation wasn't feasible. So as flames approached their ranch, they herded the alpacas into pasture and the turned on the irrigation system.

September 24, 2009|Alexandra Zavis

Cindy Harris and Doug Fieg run what they believe is the largest alpaca ranch in California.

With 400 animals -- each valued at between $10,000 and $50,000 -- they decided years ago that evacuation was not an option in a brush fire.

"It would take so long to evacuate them, and they get really stressed," Harris said.

So when flames reached their street in Somis late Tuesday, the couple tried another strategy. They herded all 400 animals into the ranch's central pastures, turned on the irrigation system and prepared to ride out the fire as best they could.

It took most of the night to move the alpacas, which are similar in appearance to llamas and prized for their fleece. But Harris said the animals appeared happy today.

"We actually had a baby born this morning," she said. "We've been fortunate today, because the fire has stayed on the other side of the street. The firefighters have been fantastic."

Helicopters have been dumping water and fire retardant on the north side of Bradley Road to keep the fire from reaching the ranch, she said.

The couple tried evacuating during another major fire, in 2003. At the time they had 150 alpacas at a ranch in Moorpark.

"The wind was blowing, and it was dark, and it was horrible," Harris said.

Alpacas are more timid than horses and do not cope as well with stress, Harris said, which could cause them to develop ulcers or abort fetuses.

"It's a lot more like handling wild deer than a domestic animal," she said.

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alexandra.zavis@latimes.com

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