At 4 a.m. on October 27, 1993, Executive Director Doug Myers got a phone call that he said he knew “was something I didn’t want to hear.” San Diego County was under hot, dry Santa Ana conditions, with heavy wind gusts, and all key personnel for the Wild Animal Park were being notified that a fast-moving brush fire was burning a mile and a half from the Park and moving that direction. Within another half-hour, the fire was burning on the Park property.
Fighting the fire throughout the day was the unified effort of the San Diego City Fire Department, the Escondido Fire Department, and the California Department of Forestry, plus the keepers, horticulture and operations staff, and other staff from the Wild Animal Park, who pitched in wherever they could. Larry Killmar, general curator, said, “The fire had a life of its own. Wherever it headed, we were in a reactionary mode, staying ahead of it, moving animals out of its way. Whenever there was a lull, we collected our senses, making a game plan for our next move.” The first animals moved were the 26 California condors and 4 Andean condors from the Condorminium—the keepers had to work in the dark to catch up the birds, put them in carriers, and move them to the administration building. Most animals were released from holding pens into field exhibits, where there was little to catch fire. Animals in the open exhibits were alert but calm; most of them reacted more calmly than the people, with the fire not close enough to trigger their instinctive fear.
When it was over, the fire had burned 800 acres of land on Park property, with damages of over $600,000. But there were no deaths and no major injuries, of animals or people, something everyone was very grateful for. Bob McClure, Park general manager, said, “We were extremely lucky, and we have excellent people out here. I couldn’t be prouder of them.”