Fire too close for comfort at wolfdog sanctuary

Broad River residents brace for nearby wildfire

Fred McCormick

Even if an occasional ash floated by her face Nov. 15, Nancy Brown didn’t have time to worry about the massive fire raging miles from her home and business.

The owner and proprietor of Full Moon Farm Wolfdog Sanctuary in the Broad River community and a team of volunteers were working diligently to protect the Broad River wolfdog shelter from the massive Party Rock Fire burning nearby. A plume of smoke hung ominously overhead as the crew raked leaves away from enclosures that house up to 60 animals at a time.

Nancy Brown takes a break from clearing leaves from the enclosures at Full Moon Farm Wolfdog Sanctuary to talk to a neighbor about the Party Rock Fire burning nearby.

“That’s a backburn,” Brown said, motioning toward the smoke hanging over Full Moon Farm. “The big fire is probably about a mile away.”

As of Nov. 18, the fire, named after the popular Lake Lure hiking destination from which it originated, had spread to 6,712 acres, impacting Rutherford County, Buncombe County and Henderson County. Gov. Pat McCrory, who visited the Lake Lure fire command center on Nov. 14, said the fire was the second-highest priority among fires in the country, behind a series of fires in Northern Georgia.

This wasn’t the first time Brown had to prepare for a fire. But the Party Rock Fire, which spread significantly since it started on Nov. 5, was unique.

“Kate Mountain had a fire before,” she said of a nearby mountain. “But the conditions weren’t like this. I’ve never seen conditions like this.”

A near rainless summer generated plenty of tinder-dry leaves, providing fuel for a fire that has been fanned by arid wind.

Brown started preparing her wolf-dog rescue soon after hearing about the wildfire burning in Lake Lure. She quickly moved her elderly dogs and dogs deemed dangerous by court order to a shelter in Flat Rock.

"Animals R Us (a veterinarian in Flat Rock) has bent over backwards for us," Brown said. "Getting those animals out early helps us focus on getting everything around here ready."

Some wolfdogs at Full Moon Farm seemed nervous about the nearby wildfire, but keeping them in familiar surroundings helped them remain calm, Brown said.

Tom Brody, who owns Rise Up Rooted Farm and River Camp just miles from Full Moon Farm, was among those who came to help Brown as the fire loomed nearby.

Tom Brody blows dry leaves off an embankment at Full Moon Farm Nov. 15 as smoke rises from beyond the trees.

"It's been crazy for all of us to try to deal with this," he said. "The local fire department has been awesome and so are the departments from all over that have been helping out. But this has been stressful for everybody."

Brody came to Full Moon Farm after preparing to evacuate himself if he were so ordered.

"We're isolated out here in this community, so it's important for us to help each other," he said. "And it's kind of tough for people here right now because we're kind of OK, but we're also kind of not, depending on what happens" with the fire.

Michael Cremone, who lives half a mile from an evacuation area in Lake Lure, checked in on the dogs at Animals R Us in Flat Rock before coming to Full Moon Farm to help Brown. "It's been like something out of a movie," he said. "Nobody around here has seen anything like this."

Cremone, a volunteer at the shelter for three years, took comfort assisting Brown in working to keep the animals safe.

"What we do here is, we put them above ourselves," he said. "Being here helping Nancy gives us all something to focus on as a community."

Rowan Bailey and Elizabeth Scranton planned to spend most of Nov. 15 clearing leaves from the perimeter of the pens on the lower part of shelter. Bailey, who traveled from Weaverville, said she was prepared to remain through the weekend to help Brown.

Elizabeth Scranton rakes leaves into a pile away from the enclosures at Full Moon Farm to protect the animals from the nearby wildfire.

"Most of the time we're doing regular chores out here, feeding the animals, cleaning the enclosures and just taking care of them," Bailey said. "But now we're out here getting all of the fire hazards away and staying in touch with the fire department to get updates on what's happening with the fire."

The fire had already impacted the shelter, forcing Brown to postpone her annual Howl for the Holidays, which would have been her final event of 2016. The financial burden of evacuating a quarter of the wolfdogs in her care forced her to start a crowdfunding campaign on the Full Moon Farm Wolfdog Sanctuary Facebook page.

An emotional Brown said she was hopeful the fire would miss the shelter and allow her an the animals to remain at their homes.

"This is home for us," she said, fighting back tears. "Any time you tranquilize an animal there's a chance the sedation could kill them. The least stressful thing for these animals is for them to just be able to stay here."