Thick black smoke hovers overhead as dozens of lions, tigers and other large cats roam actress Tippi Hedren's animal sanctuary, seemingly unfazed by a wildfire raging only a mile away.
Fire officials ordered Hedren, who starred in Alfred Hitchcock's 1963 horror classic "The Birds," to evacuate the Shambala Preserve days ago. But she sees no need to load up the animals yet.
"Nobody wants lions and tigers going down the road," Hedren, 79, told The Associated Press on Tuesday in a phone interview from her home on the preserve in northern Los Angeles County.
"We've never had to do that. I'm knocking on wood right now. We've been through floods, fires, incredible things Mother Nature has the capability of handing us."
Hedren, mother of actress Melanie Griffith, said she has spoken with the Fire Department and has steel crates and trailers ready to move the 64 big cats if the fire gets closer to the property. In addition, the preserve conducts fire clearance every six months and has a 22,000-gallon water tank, a lake, firefighting pumps and backup generators.
"Knowing what we've done to prevent any problems here, (firefighters) understand completely," said Hedren, who has been staked out on roads in front of her beloved wildlife sanctuary for days monitoring the blaze.
Hedren is president and founder of The Roar Foundation, which runs the nonprofit preserve. She bought the 65-acre property in 1972 and founded the preserve 11 years later. She lives in a cottage on the property six miles east of Acton.
No easy way out
The fire has ravaged the area and spread across 190 square miles along the foothills in the Angeles National Forest. Flames have destroyed more than 50 homes and forced the evacuation of about 12,000 others.
The Shambala Preserve is about 15 miles northeast of the Wildlife Waystation, which began evacuating its animals on Sunday. The Waystation holds about 400 animals, including lions, tigers, wolves and ostriches. Founder Martine Collette said the animals were being taken to the Los Angeles Zoo and other facilities.
Fire officials say the Shambala Preserve should evacuate but acknowledge Hedren faces a challenge.
"Her place there is unusual because of the cats," said Los Angeles County Deputy Sheriff Dan McPherson. "You can't just put them into a horse trailer and move. We certainly wouldn't block the roads so their workers couldn't get in and out."
Many of the preserve's big cats are castoffs from private owners, zoos and circuses. Michael Jackson's tigers, Thriller and Sabu, were sent to Shambala in 2006 when the late pop star was having financial problems, according to the preserve's Web site.
Hedren said the preserve has prepared 36 crates if the animals need to be evacuated — a process that would take about three hours.
Three sport utility vehicles and four cars were already packed with hard drives from the preserve's computers, along with years of Hedren's memorabilia and other personal items, including photos, clothes and paintings by her mother.
Not first brush with nature
Hedren's high desert preserve was first established as a set for the movie "Roar," which Hedren co-produced and starred in with her daughter. The set then became a sanctuary.
It has faced natural disasters before, including a wildfire last year that came close but stopped at Soledad Canyon, Hedren said.
In 1978, the property was flooded when five days of steady rain turned into a surging body of water coming down from the mountains and into the canyon.
"Steel poles were knocked down. It made it all look like hair pins," Hedren said. "We were moving animals, and suddenly our staff was swimming with a lion and a tiger. It destroyed us for a year."
Hedren is hopeful about keeping her animals safe with the latest threat.
"We are here for them in any sort of situation," she said. "There is no other reason for us to be here, other than rescuing these animals."