At the Sonoma County Fairgrounds in Santa Rosa, where more than 100 evacuated animals were sheltering in stables, the mood was upbeat. The long rows of stalls were occupied by a motley menagerie of all shapes and sizes: Most of the animals were horses but there were also alpacas, goats, sheep, and surprisingly, a pair of emus.

Around 10 a.m., some animal owners began to arrive. They helped themselves to donated apples, carrots and hay and walked their animals around the yard.

As flames from the Kincade Fire grew and evacuation orders began rolling out, some residents had to make the difficult decision to leave their animals behind as they fled their homes. That’s where Dr. John Madigan and his team stepped in.

Madigan founded and coordinates the UC Davis Veterinary Emergency Response Team (VERT), a group of volunteers who help rescue animals and provide medical care during disasters. VERT was started more than 20 years ago during a flood in the Central Valley.