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Rescuer who lost dogs to fire finds one, wounded

By jim Published: November 6, 2009

Sue Manning, Associated Press

LOS ANGELES (AP) — Bobby Wright thought he had buried Smoky.

The U.S. Forest Service worker had watched helplessly as a frenzied, massive forest fire turned toward the trailer where he lived with Smoky, a 6-month-old mutt, 20 other dogs and a rabbit named Bernie.

It was early October, and Wright and his Forest Service boss Jack Kennedy were evacuating residents and campers from the canyons around Lytle Creek. They were headed to the street where Wright and the animals he had rescued lived — and so was the fire.

The winds shifted and the fire exploded ahead of them, torching Wright's trailer and killing most of the animals in their kennels. The men could do nothing but watch.

Two dogs, Lady and Bubba, escaped with burns, bruises and scratches. The next day, Wright and Kennedy buried the dead animals.

Wright was left with his U.S. Forest Service uniform and the Jeep he'd driven to work that day.

More than two weeks passed before Smoky showed up at what had been Wright's trailer and waited until he came for her. She was emaciated and the pads on her infected paws were nearly raw. She probably survived off burned animals and lizards, Kennedy said.

"Praise the Lord," Wright said, using his favorite expression.

The Sheep Fire, as it was called, was controlled on Oct. 10 after it burned more than 11 square miles of brush and timber and destroyed four structures besides Wright's. The cause of the blaze is still under investigation.

The community of about 1,000 in Lytle Creek, about 75 miles east of Los Angeles, is rallying around Wright, trying to get him a home, furniture, clothes and kennels. A bank account has been set up and there is a furniture drive on Saturday.

In the meantime, Kennedy has taken in Wright, his 23-year-old daughter and the dogs.

Wright, 64, guesses he has rescued close to 600 dogs, cats and other creatures in the canyons in the last 10 years.

The area is a popular dumping ground for pets, because it is so close to heavy population areas. People figure it is a beautiful area and there are streams for water so they will drive by, open the door and kick the dog out, said Steve Boyd, president of the Lytle Creek Volunteer Association.

The dog will usually sit and wait — sometimes for days — for the car to come back, Wright said, or chase cars that remind them of the one they came in. Eventually they will start foraging for food, leaving them in danger as they become a danger to the wild, he explained.

Wright has found homes for the majority of animals he's rescued, but animal control has had to take some, he said.

And it isn't the first time Wright has lost his home in Lytle Creek. His cabin burned down in 2003 in another fire, but his animals were spared that time. Still, he wouldn't live anywhere else now, adding that even when it's covered in ash, there is a beauty to it.

Wright said he had a promising lead on some rental land near his old home. The place even has a few kennels, he said, adding "Praise the Lord."

"My whole life, I have done animal rescue. I enjoy doing it. It's a labor of love. I won't or can't give it up now," Wright said.

As for Smoky, Lady and Bubba, all three should recover from their burns, Wright said. Several of Smoky's toes are blistered and infected to the nub, Lady has no nails left and probably won't climb any more fences, and the burn scar on Bubba's back is there to stay.

But they're not up for adoption anymore, Wright said: "They are family now."

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