Many people living in the areas hit hardest by the Little Bear Fire had pets and livestock. State and county officials have stepped in to provide evacuees with a safe haven for their animals.
There are currently eight shelters set up around both Lincoln and Otero County where people can take animals of all sizes. Many shelters are taking in and caring for animals free of charge thanks to donations from people and businesses in the community.
Volunteers at the Lincoln County Fairgrounds have been taking in animals since Saturday. They told ABC-7 the shelter was at capacity then with almost 200 animals including horses, chickens and goats.
As of Wednesday, many people had taken their animals home as they were allowed to return to their properties. Volunteers said they were housing about 28 horses now, compared to 75 on Saturday.
One family found shelter for themselves and their animals at the fairgrounds.
Shelly Sweat and her family are living in a trailer parked at the fairgrounds after evacuating their house on Saturday.
"We're safe. We're secure. We have a place to lay our heads," Sweat told ABC-7.
Sweat said she found out from her husband that their house was completely destroyed by the fire.
"My wedding dress is gone. Everything. It's just so sad that it had to happen," Sweat said. "It's OK, but it's not OK. After 22 years of marriage, I felt safe enough to put pictures on the walls and the walls are gone."
Sweat has not physically gone back to her property, but she saw the destruction through photos taken by her husband. In the photos, the house is completely gone with just rubble and remains left behind.
Sweat said she was able to retrieve some priceless valuables including photos, keepsakes and all of her animals including dogs, goats, chickens and lambs.
"You go get the feed or the buckets or the hose or whatever else. You don't leave it behind because it's too expensive. They have to eat, too. I've paid for it. I'm not going to let it burn up," Sweat said.
At the fairgrounds, Sweat and her animals are being taken care of and after losing everything, she said it's a relief.
"Somebody has the puppies. Somebody has the chickens. If it's just help by taking them away and caring for them at their house, it's a thousand pounds off of my shoulders," Sweat said.
Sweat said she will miss the home she lived in for the past 12 years.
'I love my house. I built it. I drew it. My husband and I did everything," Sweat said.
Despite the ordeal she's gone through, she managed to find a silver lining in this tragedy.
"Now we have a chance to start over and if there was something we didn't like about it we can change it. We don't have to have 10-foot ceilings. We can have 9-foot ceilings now," Sweat said with a smile.
In order to help people like Sweat and her family, volunteers told ABC-7 donations have been crucial. They said they have received stacks of hay. Each bale is worth about $300 to $400 so they said the generosity of the public has been amazing.
Officials plan on setting up more shelters to help people on a long-term basis once they find out the status of their properties. For more information on animal shelters, call (575) 258-6900.
Photos Of The Lincoln County Fairgrounds Animal Shelter: Lincoln County Fairgrounds Animal Shelter Slideshow