REDDING (AP) — Among the refugees from the massive and deadly wildfires in Northern California were some hard-shelled survivors: 80 tortoises.
Ken and Kate Hoffman, who run the Tortoise Acres Adoption Center in Anderson outside Redding, evacuated on Saturday in the midst of the wildfire that has killed six people and destroyed more than 1,000 homes.
The couple opened the rescue center and sanctuary in 2016.
“If you’d told me two years ago I was going to do this, I would have said you’re crazy,” Ken Hoffman said.
But the Hoffmans say they had fallen in love with the reptiles. They even got matching tortoise tattoos last week — right when fires erupted that would threaten their 10-acre property.
KQED-TV says the couple made the decision to leave as embers fell from the sky and the air was full of smoke and ash.
Kate started packing belongings into a motorhome and securing the family’s menagerie, which includes birds, dogs and a llama. Ken began wrangling the tortoises, which include a pair of brothers called Samson and Goliath that weigh more than 200 pounds each.
The tortoises were placed in a large horse trailer, with barricades to separate them because the males will fight each other. It took seven hours to pack up.
But the problems weren’t over. Their old pickup truck had broken down. They borrowed another from a friend but it broke down as they were on the road.
The couple sent a desperate post on Facebook and after several hours, someone from a local fence company loaned them another truck.
It was nightfall before word came that the fire near the Hoffmans’ home was lessening, thanks to firefighting efforts and changing winds. They decided to return home but left the tortoises packed in the horse trailer just in case they had to flee again.
It wasn’t until late Sunday that the couple felt safe enough to let the tortoises out.
“We came back to the sanctuary because the tortoises are very stressed in the hot small quarters ... They need to stretch their legs and eat,” the couple explained on their sanctuary Facebook page.
The tortoises were thirsty and hungry but volunteers brought them food and “they are extremely happy now,” the couple wrote.
Although the fire is far from extinguished, the Hoffmans planned to thank firefighters who helped beat back the flames that threatened their home. This weekend, they plan to bring some tortoises to visit fire crews based at the local fairgrounds, according to their tortoise sanctuary Facebook page. They also planned to hand out thousands of hand-made buttons reading “Thank You Firefighters.”