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Boulder Creek Native Travels Across Country to Rescue Animals After CZU Fire

Ryan Okrant is now starting an organization of 'second responders' to help domestic and wild animals after wildfires

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The CZU Lightning Complex Fire ended up burning 86,000 acres.

All of it, too much for Ryan Okrant to sit and watch from 2,500 miles away.

"I felt a burning passion inside my body to get back here," Okrant said.

Okrant grew up in Boulder Creek and knows the mountain roads of Santa Cruz County well. He was sure there was some way he could help with wildfire recovery, but he was far away, living in South Florida.

"Being out in Florida, when this hit, it gave me a lot of stress," Okrant said. "I was really stressed out. My parents got evacuated. The town I was born in was burning down."

So, Ryan used friends' airline miles to make the trip back home, then volunteered with a local paper to gain access to the burn zone.

"I knew that we needed to do something, but I didn't know what it was," he said.

That "something" turned out to have names like Tobias and Oreo. They were the pets who had been left behind by their owners in the rush to flee the flames.

Okrant began by trapping the animals he could and leaving behind food and water for the ones he couldn't, then posting updates about his eneavors on Facebook. He has kept a muster of two dozen pet peacocks alive deep in the forest thanks to his daily deliveries.

"The response was overwhelming," Okrant said. "The community banded together and supported what I was doing and I wanted to do more and more."

Soon, Okrant was helping not just the domestic animals but the wildlife in the burn zone as well. He has been providing food and water for the animals, hoping to keep them from having to leave their natural habitat.

He realized he was filling a need that must exist after every wildfire; a need for "second responders" he called it.

So, Okrant is now redirecting his life and dedicating himself to starting a new organization of trained volunteers called ASSERT to do the kind of work he is doing whenever and wherever wildfires strike.

It's the birth of something good, Okrant believes, out of the ashes of something so terrible.

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