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Grassfire causes evacuation of animal shelter

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POLSON — Fourteen dogs and 32 cats and kittens were evacuated from the Mission Valley Animal Shelter Friday afternoon when a grassfire threatened the structure on Reservoir Road in Polson.

Shortly after 4 p.m. high winds felled a large tree across the road west of the shelter, taking power lines down and sparking a wind-fueled fire in the dry grass, according to Lake County Sheriff Don Bell.

The flames quickly spread toward the shelter, but just skirted to the south of the outdoor kennels.

“The lights went out,” shelter director Jill Simpson said. “I just stepped out the side door and saw the flames right there.”

A quick animal rescue effort ensued with just one phone call to the top of the phone chain, and immediately help came from the community, according to Simpson.

 “People just stopped on their way home … and loaded dogs into their car,” she said.

Meanwhile Polson Fire, Ronan Fire and the Tribes’ Division of Fire attacked the brushfire, quickly containing the blaze in spite of the wind as Mission Valley Power took care of the electrical line.

Lake County employee Mark Nelson said for safety reasons, the transfer station closed early after the fire started.

The animal shelter had closed earlier than normal, too, just minutes before the fire started. Simpson said two visitors remained but she asked them to quickly leave.

“I have a plan. I did not panic. I went straight into action,” said Simpson, who worked six years with fire and rescue in Alaska. “It just kicks in.”

The blaze was put out, the tree was removed from the road and the power was restored by nightfall.

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