By John Ramos

PETALUMA (KPIX) — The devastating Caldor Fire turned a lot of Northern California residents into refugees, and that included three black bear cubs, who have now found a temporary home in Sonoma County. But now they need the public’s help.

The three cubs were evacuated from the Caldor Fire here to Petaluma, but unlike a lot of the fire refugees, it may be a while before they get back home.

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The orphaned cubs, a younger brother and sister and an older female, were all found wandering without their mothers in the fire zone. They were sent here to the Sonoma County Wildlife Rescue, a 15-acre shelter that is one of only three in the entire state licensed to take bears.

So when these fires are happening in bear country, there’s only three places they can send them.

“Yes, and there’s a lot of bears being found,” said Executive Director Doris Duncan

She keeps visitors well back from the enclosure and says staff only spends about 20 minutes every 3 days to clean and resupply it with food while the cubs hide from them in a wooden-box “cave.” They don’t want them to become familiar with humans, so the best view of the cubs is from the shelter’s office, watching them via a surveillance camera.

“We never talk around them,” says Duncan. “We never stay in there very long. We barely even look at them.”

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On Monday the cubs were active, as the brother and sister played hide and seek and the older female played with a hanging branch nearby.

“She wants to be part of their group, but they haven’t let her in yet,” explains Duncan. “So she just gets closer and closer and they watch her.”

The trio will eventually become comfortable with each other but the cubs are destined to be released, probably in mid-Spring, when they are old enough to fend for themselves. Staff is working hard to keep them wild but the shelter has only been licensed for a year and a half and was surprised when the wildfires sent them so many bears so soon.

“We need to be more prepared when the bears come. They need a much larger facility,” says Duncan.

So the reserve is making a public appeal. They need about $250,000 to build a fenced enclosure roughly six times the size of the current one. That will allow their bear guests to roam and forage and become prepared for the outside world.

“It’s going to be a very rewarding experience for everyone in our community if we can rehabilitate these little bears from the fires and get them back to their home in the wild, where they belong,” said Duncan.

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The non-profit shelter operates on land provided to them by Sonoma County. They’ve posted video of the cubs at play at https://youtu.be/WMQS5iwMWYQ and anyone wishing to contribute to the new bear enclosure project, can find more information on the shelter’s website, scwildliferescue.org