Fires Cause Equine Evacuations

The raging California wildfires that have killed 20 people, destroyed about 3,400 homes, and blackened approximately 552,713 acres, also had a profound effect on the equine population. Hundreds, perhaps thousands, of horses were evacuated from the fire's path, by owners with their own trailers, volunteers who rushed in from as far away as Los Angeles (to the San Diego area), and commercial horse vanning companies that offered their services for free.

By today, the major fires were anywhere from 77-99% contained, and horse owners were retrieving their animals and returning to homes and stables if they weren't destroyed.

A number of the evacuated horses wound up at Del Mar Thoroughbred Club, just north of San Diego in Del Mar. At the peak of the fire crisis, said Steve Fiebing, information officer for Del Mar Fairgrounds, some 900 equine evacuees were housed in track stalls and 400 more were at the nearby Del Mar Horse Park.

The evacuation of horses brought out the best in horse-owning residents of the area, said Aaron Reed, owner of Rockridge Horse Transport of San Marcos, Calif., a community located 25 miles north of San Diego. Reed owns five vans and volunteered all of them in the evacuation effort. Other companies did the same, and during the height of the crisis they were operating on a 24-hour-a-day schedule.

While many of the horses were taken to Del Mar, Reed said, others were transported to Vessels Stallion Farm, a large racehorse breeding facility that opened its gates to refugees. Still others went to stables outside the danger area. Many polo ponies wintering in the Julian area were trailered to Yuma,Ariz.

"There were horses going everywhere," said Fiebing.

At one point, some 250 of the horses were listed as strays at the Del Mar facilities--owners unknown. By Nov. 3, that number had dropped to below 30.

Reed said that word of horses in need of evacuation reached him and other van owners in a number of ways.

"We'd pull into a farm to pick up two horses after being called," Reed said, "and we'd leave with 12. People just came out of the woodwork with their horses. We couldn't turn them down."

It was estimated that equine transport companies evacuated between 700 and 800 head. In addition, he said, horse owners from outside the fire danger area arrived by the dozens with private trailers to help with the evacuation effort. The number of horses evacuated by volunteers is unknown. "The way the community pulled together was phenomenal," he said.

Horses injured as a result of the fire wound up at animal rescue centers or veterinary hospitals. See article #4742 for more on the injured animals.


About the Author

Les Sellnow

Les Sellnow is a free-lance writer based near Riverton, Wyo. He specializes in articles on equine research, and operates a ranch where he raises horses and livestock. He has authored several fiction and non-fiction books, including Understanding Equine Lameness and Understanding The Young Horse, published by Eclipse Press and available at or by calling 800/582-5604.

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