By Laurelle Walsh
When the people and pets at Rover’s Ranch were suddenly forced to escape from the Rising Eagle Road Fire on Aug. 1, five members of the Liberty Bell High School football team and their coach were among the friends and clients who showed up to help with the evacuation.
“There are so many people I want to thank,” said co-owner Kathryn Heim, who admits she’s still feeling “pretty traumatized” by the experience.
The dog-boarding facility was full on that Friday, with 12 dogs and one parrot under the Heims’ care, including four dogs whose families had lost their homes two weeks earlier in the Carlton Complex Fire.
“When people heard that Rover’s Ranch was in jeopardy, they just dropped what they were doing to come and help,” said Heim.
Liberty Bell football coach Brian Wilbur was conducting a workout with team members Chip Jones, Jose Dominguez, Isaac Cordes, Meritt Fink and Mikey Hafsos at Winthrop Physical Therapy and Fitness, when he learned about the kennel’s immediate need.
“We all piled into two cars and drove on up there,” Wilbur said. “The boys’ attitude was pretty much — this is what we need to do and we’re doing it.”
The swiftly moving fire appeared to be headed toward the Snowberry Lane neighborhood off Twin Lakes Road, and the sheriff’s deputy stationed at the bottom of the road would not allow them to drive in, though he did give them the OK to go up the road on foot. “If I had thought there was any immediate danger I would not have let [the team] do it,” Wilbur said.
The teammates ran up the road to Rover’s Ranch and promptly began helping the Heims load precious items into their cars. “These incredible young men were there and did what it took,” Heim said.
“Those are five pretty level-headed boys,” who, after assisting at Rover’s Ranch, also helped evacuate the Pine Forest home of one of the team members, Wilbur said.
“We talk about the importance of being a good citizen,” the coach said. “One of our standards is to be a positive force in the community. It’s not just about football.”
“It’s amazing to me what they did. They put themselves out there and helped in a huge way,” said Heim.
Heim and her husband, Patrick, said they plan to attend all of Liberty Bell’s home football games to help cheer them on. “It’s the new date night for us.”