California Fires Force Horse Evacuations

Smoke rising from wildfires in Los Angeles County, Calif., provided an uneasy backdrop for the teams of rescuers tending to animal evacuees housed at Pierce College, just eight miles from the fires. At one time the college housed more than 210 horses, mules, and other livestock.

As of Sept. 29, wildfires fueled by dry conditions and the seasonal Santa Ana winds burned across 10 miles of ridgeline in Los Angeles, San Bernardino, and Ventura Counties, consuming an estimated 17,000 acres. Aided by aircraft, some 3,000 firefighters worked to control the blazes, which were only about 5% contained the morning of Sept. 30, according to Los Angeles County Fire officials.

California wildfires, as of Sept. 30, cunsumed an estimated 17,000 acres just outside of Los Angeles. 

Courtesy Yvonne Kleiman

"The winds have died down substantially and that’s going to be a big advantage for us in getting control," said Los Angeles County fire Capt. Kurt Schaefer in an article in the The Monterey County Herald. "With the weather changing, we should start to see the containment numbers go up."  

In the article Schaefer said he plans to use every resource available to control the fire. Neighboring fire departments from as far as San Diego have offered their assistance.

The Pierce Emergency Evacuation Center, along with the Los Angeles City Animal Control (which is currently operating from the college), had worked around the clock for three days to accommodate the influx of animals forced from their homes because of the fires.

"Horses started coming in yesterday (Sept. 27), and they will probably continue to come in indefinitely, depending on the fires," said Doreen Clay of Pierce College, which can only take in large animals. She added, "If we can’t take them, we’ll find a place a place to send them."

Horses not coming to the college are routed to the Los Angeles and Hansen Dam Equestrian Centers or the Ventura County Fairgrounds.
Students from Pierce’s veterinary technician and pre-vet programs, along with community volunteers, aided the college’s two staff veterinarians in caring for the animals.

"With the weather being as hot as it is. It’s a tough deal just to keep them watered," said Bill Lander, Pierce equestrian education manager. "We have a team that just waters the animals."

Los Angeles mounted police have been using their trailers to help evacuate animals. Every animal brought in is digitally photographed, tagged for identification, and all know information about the owner or location the animal was found is recorded in a database. Very few of the horses coming to the college have more than minor injuries, though many are geriatric and need to be sheltered from the day’s heat.

"We’ve heard stories of people who had to leave their horses because they couldn’t get them to load into the trailers," Lander said. He stressed the importance of having an emergency evacuation plan well before the need arises. "I had one lady call and ask if she could bring her four Percheron stallions," Lander said. He explained that the college was not equipped to handle stallions.

The college has a limited number of pipe stalls available, when those were filled, the remainder of the horses were picketed. Lander said the college has offered its large parking area and fields to accommodate owners with trailers wanting to stay with their animals.

"We are at full capacity according to what the officials think we can handle at this time," Lander said. "But if the fire gets worse, we are able to take more in." He worries that if the fires head toward Malibu, there will be an even greater number of horses that need to be evacuated."

About the Author

Chad Mendell

Chad Mendell is the former Managing Editor for .

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