Many of you know Southern California is on fire. I am near San Diego and last Thursday Dec 7, a fire broke out in North County, about an hour north of San Diego. That afternoon I was on my way to the Fox News studio around 2 pm for an interview about my attempt to get a spot for the dogsledding thing when I heard about the fires on the radio. After the interview I saw on facebook there was an urgent need for equine evacuations.
I got home and pulled the furniture (just moved) out of the trailer, left it under a tree, hooked up the truck…and waited. I wanted to jump in and go help evacuate horses…but information was scattered, cell signal was spotty, and it was starting to get dark. It seemed like a bad idea to go out with a rig, alone, in the dark, with a fire moving fast, roadblocks changing, and information coming from a few different sources. A few times, I got in the truck and almost just went as I listened to Zello, the walkie talkie app and heard one facility was unreachable and setting horses loose.
By 10 pm, I secured a co-pilot and headed out. The major equine evacuation effort at that point was focused on a horse rescue with a few hundred horses. They were not in the current path of the fire, but the Santa Anna winds were blowing and shifting. If the wind changed, they would be overtaken quickly with no hope of evacuating from their remote, hill top, single lane road access location.
There were trailers lined up at the bottom of the hill by the road to the farm, staged to load up and take horses to Del Mar Racetrack. It took hours to reach the front of the line where volunteers loaded 2 horses into my trailer.
It was the wee hours of the morning when we arrived at the emergency stabling to leave off the horses.
With no news of urgent need for more trailers to evacuate anywhere, I headed home at 4 am. Around 7 am, I was about to pull out of the driveway to head to the office when I heard on the walkie talkie app that a few trailers were being let past the roadblocks. I put out a call for a co-pilot and let my boss know I wouldn’t be in. My copilot was a vet-tech. As we approached the roadblocks, she was in communication about a horse that was apparently injured too badly to be moved. A vet was on the way. We were possibly closer. We were cleared through the roadblocks and entered the evacuation area.
We got a phone call (off the zello radio channel) that the horse was ‘burned from nose to tail.’ I parked the truck and trailer on the side of the road.
The vet arrived just after we did. I put a buff over my nose and mouth and we followed a crying young woman through ashes, burned brush, fences, and trees to where a bay mare stood by a large live oak tree. The owner explained that the mare wouldn’t load and they had to set her loose and leave. The mare was shaking and in shock. The hair on her whole body was singed and curled.
Her muzzle was covered in oozing blisters. Her coronet bands had cracked open and her hooves were smoking.
My co-pilot and I provided shoulders to cry on and hugs as the vet quickly explained that the kindest thing was to euthanize. Quickly. The young woman begged her mare’s forgiveness, thanked her, and said goodbye.
As the vet turned away, I saw tears on his cheek below his sunglasses.
We walked back toward the driveway. The young woman’s parents were by the ashes of a house that was burned to the ground. I heard the mother saying something about, ‘I didn’t think it would come HERE.’
Natural disaster is a new experience for me. Seeing this was life changing. I might have been one of the, ‘wait and see’ people in the past. Thinking the wind wasn’t blowing my way and about how much of a pain in the butt it would be to evacuate if I didn’t have to. But fire is fast and wind changes.
My plea to all horse and animal owners.
Have a disaster plan that includes your animals.
Specifically for fire, evacuate early especially if you need to coordinate a lift for your horses with emergency personnel or if your horses don’t load well. Your plan should include where and how you will set your animals loose if necessary. In the tragic scenario I witnessed, while the horse was ‘set loose’ it was still on a fenced in property and clearly didn’t find it’s way down the driveway. If you are in the path of the fire and either don’t have a trailer or the horse won’t load, roll down the car or truck window and lead the horse at least far enough to escape if you must set them loose. If there are multiple horses, tie them together and lead one. Even if they ‘don’t lead like that’ just do it. Some equine bickering or a kick is manageable. Burns and smoke inhalation may not be. Also make sure your emergency information is posted in the barn or near the animals. If you aren’t home or can’t get home, rescue animal personal may need to reach you to get permission to evacuate your animals.
Here is another really great resource:
This booklet evolved from the original information contained in “What Do I Do With My Horse In Fire, Flood, and/or Earthquake?” initiated by Rod Bergen and compiled by Stephanie Abronson and the members of the Monte Nido Mountain Ridge Riders, and originally published by the Monte Nido Paddock of Equestrian Trails, Inc., Corral 63, since 1992. The previous printed version of this booklet in a revised edition was by the City of Los Angeles and Stephanie Abronson, March 1997.
*I am not yet part of any official disaster response, but I am working on it. I just got my amateur radio operator (HAM radio) license and plan to get involved with Amateur Radio Emergency Communications. I also hope to get training this coming year and become part of an official emergency animal rescue network.