Aftermath of the California Fires--Deaths and Injuries

Yankee, a 30-year-old bay gelding, is one fortunate survivor of the rampant California wildfires that have plagued the San Diego and San Bernardino areas, and other parts of the state, since late October. Owner Carol Prida's home in Wildcat Canyon burned and fell on his stall Oct. 26, before he could be evacuated. Everything plastic in Yankee's stall (including his buckets) melted from the heat, and he received burns and lacerations from the debris.


Larry Catt, DVM, treats Yankee, a fortunate survivor of the Californa fires.

"He was really lucky to survive," said Larry Catt, DVM, senior partner of Large Animal Veterinary Associates in El Cajon, Calif. "When I saw him, the prognosis was guarded because he had so much facial swelling (from burns and smoke inhalation)." Catt has been treating Yankee for years, and says that the gelding and his owner have a strong bond; so strong that one side of Yankee's corral is Prida's bedroom wall. "She'd open the window and talk to the horse every night," said Catt.

A gray horse nicknamed Marshmallow from a nearby Indian reservation was also singed by the fire, so much that you can see where her halter protected small areas of her face during the exposure to extreme heat.

Click here to see photographs of Yankee, Marshmallow, and other fire-related images.

Another lucky horse literally had a barn burn down around him, and survived. According to Mark Martinelli, DVM, PhD, Dipl. ACVS, of California Equine Orthopedics in Encinitas, Calif., one of his client's horses refused to leave the barn as his owners were evacuating, and as they were getting a full trailer of horses out of harm's way, the fire enveloped the barn. Miraculously, the horse was recovered with only minor smoke inhalation.

Both Yankee's and Marshmallow's owners lost their barns, so the horses are recovering at boarding facilities. "You know it's devastating when virtually everyone you talk to knows someone who lost a home," said Catt. "I have people that have been clients for 18-20 years that have nothing now. These people lost's tough."

Triage and Loss

Not all horses were as fortunate as those three. Martinelli kept in contact with other veterinarians in the area who were treating critical cases, and he said that Mike Manno, DVM, of Helen Woodward Animal Center, reported seven horses had been admitted to the Rancho Santa Fe, Calif., facility with injuries. Of those, three were euthanized, but the others are doing well, although coping with burns and smoke inhalation.

Catt said one horse had to be euthanized after a kick injury from another horse during the transport process. He also knew of several horses which were euthanized in the field by either the humane society or animal control "because they were burned to such a degree that they were not survivable.

"Frankly, I think it was miraculous that there weren't more fatalities, given the amount of livestock in the area," said Catt.

Martinelli said that officials don't know how many livestock fatalities occurred since many animals might not have been evacuated from rural areas.

Catt, who helped treat horses at the Lakeside Rodeo Grounds, which housed up to 150 refugees in the days following the fire, said, "The worst is over. The few horses that were burned badly are doing well, we haven't had many problems with smoke inhalation, and very few residual problems other than just some nicks, cuts, and wounds because of all the horses being transported. Things have quieted down quite a bit."


Catt said that the outreach from the community has been incredible. "There has been an overabundance of animal feed (donated), so much that the humane society and animal control are trying to find places for the extra. I'm trying to help get 200 bales of hay allocated out to places that are housing horses from the fire."

The fires are subsiding due to cooler temperatures and moisture. According to the National Interagency Fire Center (, the fires were 77-99% contained as of today.  At least 552,713 acres of California had been consumed by fires.

Stay tuned for images of Yankee, Marshmallow, and the fires.--SLC

About the Author

Stephanie L. Church, Editor-in-Chief

Stephanie L. Church, Editor-in-Chief, received a B.A. in Journalism and Equestrian Studies from Averett College in Danville, Virginia. A Pony Club and 4-H graduate, her background is in eventing, and she is schooling her recently retired Thoroughbred racehorse, Happy, toward a career in that discipline. She also enjoys traveling, photography, cycling, and cooking in her free time.

Stay on top of the most recent Horse Health news with FREE weekly newsletters from Learn More

Free Newsletters

Sign up for the latest in:

From our partners