Horse owners scramble to evacuate their animals ahead of California fire

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Volunteers and others came to the resuve of horses as the flames of the Easy Fire closed in on them in Simi Valley. Ventura County Star

CAMARILLO, Calif. – The CB Ranch was surrounded by fire, the air so blackened with smoke flames couldn’t even be seen.

“That was scary, so scary – just the darkness and the wind and smoke,” said Dan Dollar of Newbury Park, west of Thousand Oaks. He raced Wednesday to the ranch to rescue his horse in a scene repeated time and again during the Easy Fire, which has pushed across Simi Valley’s horse country.

Dollar and dozens of others threaded their pickup trucks and horse trailers around closed roads to evacuate their horses to the Ventura County Fairgrounds on Wednesday morning.

As soon as they unloaded their horses, some raced back to try to rescue more animals.

“Just get the ones we can get and get out,” said Peggy Lane of Reseda, who helped with rescue efforts at the Elvenstar Show Stables between Moorpark and Simi.

“It’s super bad in there,” she said of the fire. “I’ve never seen it like this.”

The trailers came to the fairgrounds one after another. More than 110 horses filled the livestock area by 2 p.m. Ventura County Animal Services officials had declared the site full but were scrambling to create more outdoor stalls.

Dozens more horses were evacuated to the Humane Society of Ventura County in Ojai. People were also able to take their horses to the Earl Warren Showgrounds in Santa Barbara.

Some people drove to Camarillo seeking shelter for smaller pets. By midday, fire refugees had brought five dogs, five cats and three goats to the county animal shelter near the Camarillo Airport.

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Emma Stavropoulos, 24, said the shelter was the best choice for four family dogs after she learned of the evacuation warning for her address in Moorpark.

“I was going to sit at a dog park all day or go to Riverside where my brother lives,” she said.

After driving through traffic crawling at 10 to 20 mph on Highway 118, she checked in two cocker spaniels, a Jack Russell terrier and a bichon frise.

The shelter accepts basically every animal except large livestock, said animal services spokesman Randy Friedman.

He said both the Camarillo shelter and a small county shelter in Simi Valley were closed for adoptions but remained open for people reclaiming lost pets.

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With a week of wild Santa Ana winds, California is under siege by several fires such as the Kincade, Getty, Easy and Tick Fires. Harrison Hill and Robert Hanashiro, USA TODAY

At the Ventura County Fairgrounds, people tried to calm and care for their horses, using hay donated by Camarillo Feed Store. They tried to find hotel rooms, checked their phones for updates and shared what news they could.

“Ours is on fire right now,” said one man, referring to a Moorpark area ranch he had left 90 minutes earlier, adding he knew no details.

At some ranches, horses that couldn’t be evacuated were left in arenas. Some were let loose with plans to rescue them later.

“The whole ranch was surrounded,” said Carrie Burke, who helped rescue horses from a ranch alongside Tierra Rejada Road. “We just had to let horses out.”

A year ago, the Woolsey Fire destroyed White Cloud Ranch near Malibu, where Brian and Amy Stevenson boarded a mare named Dulcinea and mini-donkeys Sierra and Lacey. They moved their animals to Castle Rock Farms on Tierra Rejada. And that site was threatened by the Easy Fire.

“We saw fire probably 120 yards away,” said Brian Stevenson. He expressed relief to be at the fairgrounds with his wife and their animals.

“It’s not burning,” he said. “Any place that’s not burning is good with us.”

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