Volunteers Help Horses During California Wildfires

While the Esperanza wildfire burned around them, approximately 100 horses were able to wait out the blaze in their own pastures in Riverside County, Calif., with care from Riverside Emergency Animal Rescue Services (REARS). According to Frank Corvino, deputy director of the Riverside County Department of Animal Services, REARS volunteers found and helped look after horses residing on large ranches in areas inaccessible to trailer rigs for evacuation.

"It was a fast-moving fire without access to the top," said Corvino "In some smaller communities at the top of the mountain such as Poppet Flat, there were two large ranches with about 40 or 50 horses each that couldn't be evacuated."

Volunteer crews discovered the animals in the fire zone while surveying the region for horses in need of care. Despite the blaze, Corvino said ranch owners were able to keep small crews on-site to care for the horses. Volunteers checked on the horses throughout the blaze to keep them calm, fed, and watered.

"They all came through it in very good condition," Corvino said.

However, a total of eight horses were evacuated from more accessible areas within the fire zone. According to Corvino, owners walked their horses down the single access road that remained open while firefighters battled the blaze.

"We met them below, loaded the horses, and transported them to the Riverside County Fairgrounds and other locations provided by local people who had the facilities," Corvino said.

Department of Animal Services veterinarians examined the horses at the evacuation holding sites. According to Terry Paik, DVM, disaster response coordinator for San Diego County, Calif., veterinary emergency personnel check horses for specific conditions after an evacuation.

"Evacuated horses often experience injuries as a result of loading problems or from horses kicking each other during the evacuation process," said Paik who was not at the Riverside County evacuation scene, but who helped supervise the evacuation of thousands of horses during the San Diego wildfires in 2003. "Most of the other problems are generally from colic due to stress and lack of food and water."

The horses rescued from the Esperanza fire remained at evacuation holding areas for about a week, Corvino said, where they were monitored daily by Department of Animal Services personnel.

Beginning on Oct. 26, the wildfire, which was started by an arsonist, burned 63 square miles in Riverside County, Calif. It claimed the lives of five firefighters before it was considered 100% contained on Nov. 1.



About the Author

Pat Raia

Pat Raia is a veteran journalist who enjoys covering equine welfare, industry, and news. In her spare time, she enjoys riding her Tennessee Walking Horse, Sonny.

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