ARCADIA — An encroaching wildfire ripped through the barn minutes after rescuers got the thoroughbred named Babe out.
Fire destroyed 60 structures, including 40 homes, in the Luther area three weeks ago.
But the efforts of the animal rescue team coordinated by the Oklahoma County Sheriff's Department helped assuage the fire's toll on animals.
Bill Cavanaugh and his wife, Margaret, are among 20 people on the volunteer animal rescue team that was called to action for the first time Aug. 3.
The mare Babe was among four horses in the imperiled barn in Luther that day.
They were led into Cavanaugh's trailer and taken to his farm about four miles away in Arcadia.
Sheriff John Whetsel recognized the animal rescue efforts Wednesday at the Cavanaughs' farm.
Babe's owner, Ofelia Alvarez, was in Oklahoma City when she heard about the wildfire. It was burning through a neighbor's home as she opened the gate for her horses before she was forced to flee.
“We didn't have time to take anything out,” Alvarez said.
When wildfires threaten animals, their owners typically cut fences to free them and round them up later. The animal rescue team was formed at the suggestion of a sheriff's deputy to address the problem after wildfires plagued the area in 2011, Whetsel said.
The team rescued the horses, cows, dogs and a chicken Aug. 3.
“The team came and responded on their own time, with their own vehicles and their own trailers,” Whetsel said.
Cavanaugh went above and beyond the rescue effort, Whetsel said. He and his wife donated items to Alvarez and her family.
“It's an honor to help other people,” Cavanaugh said.
Alvarez gave Babe to the Cavanaughs, and the couple have been providing the horse with veterinary care.
Her three other horses are being housed at a friend's ranch. Cavanaugh transported them there and donated feed, she said.
The horses are especially important to Alvarez because she operates a carriage business in Oklahoma City, she said.
She hopes to rebuild. Her home and the home of her sister's family were lost that day, along with the barn and corral.
“My husband passed away in December 2010,” Alvarez said. “He always said that when he retired he would like to live there and have his horses, now everything is gone. It's sad for me. I just lost my husband and now I lost my house, but thank God we are alive, and my horses are OK.”
Babe was scratched and bruised the night of the fire, and one of her legs needs attention. She has been eating poorly and needs to gain 30 pounds.
If she can recover, she might make a good mounted patrol horse for the sheriff's department, Cavanaugh said. If that's not her destiny, she is welcome to live on the farm indefinitely, along with two horses, four alpacas, three dogs and three cats.
Investigators think arson sparked the Luther wildfire and continue to investigate leads, Whetsel said. About $12,000 has been raised as a reward for information leading to an arrest.