SANTA ROSA (CBS13) – As flames from the wine country wildfires started coming over the hills, it looked as though a thousand exotic animals at Safari West in Santa Rosa would go up in flames.
The safari’s founder had to make a painstaking choice: Save his home or save his animals.
When Peter Lang founded Safari West almost three decades ago, his animals became family.
“These are nice guys,” Lang said.
From African rhinos to antelopes, animals were spread out across a 400 acre-preserve in the heart of wine country.
But when the Santa Rosa fire came bearing down on Safari West, these massive creatures were suddenly defenseless.
“They were just standing there watching the fire come down the hills,” Lang said.
But Lang was prepared for battle.
“We drove out through flames,” Lang said.
He left his home in the path of destruction to save his sanctuary.
“I had a greater responsibility,” Lang said.
He didn’t have much to work with.
“Matter of fact, there’s a piece of burned out hose right there,” Lang said while touring the aftermath.
Garden hoses is what he used to put out hotspots – before the rubber caught on fire.
He sprayed in and around enclosures again and again.
“You had to keep coming back and put out fires, then you’d move there and then this would light up again and then you’d see something over just move,” Lang said.
And he moved alone. No one there to help him.
“Where was everyone?” we asked. “They were evacuated,” Lang said.
He says his hard work paid off.
“They [the animals] were OK after?” we asked. “Yeah,” Lang said.
But he paid a heavy price. Lang’s home was torched and is now just a pile of rubble, chimneys and memories.
“You can see the view. It was wonderful,” Lang said.
But in a region ruined by wildfire, there still lies an oasis of wildlife.
If these animals could talk they say thank you to their founder’s dedication. The only question now is when you can come see these colorful creatures, there’s a lot of rebuilding going on.
The parts of Santa Rosa are still in ruins from the fires and Lang wants to wait until March 1, when everything is settled, to reopen.
Lang says he has insurance for his home and plans to rebuild right away. For now he’s living in a cabin on the safari. But his neighbors face uncertain futures in the aftermath.