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By Eric Heinz 

Charred remains of shrubbery and what was grassland on the southern hillsides near the San Clemente-Dana Point Animal Shelter shows just how close the wildland fire on June 28-30 came to the shelter.

Most of what’s visible from the animal shelter was a controlled burn by firefighters to stop the rapid blaze, but animal shelter personnel said they were ready to ship Milo and Otis off to safekeeping if needed.

Kim Cholodenko, the general manager for the Coastal Animal Services Authority (CASA), which goes by the name San Clemente-Dana Point Animal Shelter, was on-site the night the fire started.

“A couple staff members stayed here that night and were watching the fire as it burned on the hillside,” Cholodenko said, adding she was in constant contact with Orange County Fire Authority (OCFA) and the chief of police in Dana Point during the fire. “We were not so concerned, but…the flames were not too far away.”

No evacuations were ordered by OCFA during the fire.

Cholodenko said many people reached out to the shelter via social media to offer support, and she reciprocated by letting people know on Facebook and other outlets that the shelter was safe.

The animal shelter does not provide boarding, so all of the animals there are unowned.

Cholodenko said evacuation processes can vary based on availability of space with local resources. It can also depend on how much time they have to get out, but she said they could start sending animals out to other facilities within 10 to 15 minutes. The shelter has vehicles and transportation devices for these procedures.

Jennifer Stinett, animal services supervisor for the city of San Clemente, said experience as well as education helps facilitate evacuations.

“I think that our staff’s experience kind of kicks in, although we haven’t done (an evacuation) before, we train and we have been to classes on how to evacuate,” Stinett said.

The shelter houses anywhere between 40 to 80 animals on average at a time.

Camp Pendleton officials are still investigating the cause of the fire, as it began on the military base and progressed into San Clemente. Three fires have been contained since then in the same area. One on Wednesday, July 5, burned 52 acres, and another burned more than 150 on Tuesday, July 11. Cholodenko said the shelter has never experienced wildland fires as close as these, but they have seen fires near the San Clemente border.

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