In the Midst of the Blaze, Saving Pit Bulls, Emus, Alpacas, Horses, and Two Pet Cows

How Animal Evacuations Went Down During the Thomas Fire

Equine evacuations are just part of the equation at Earl Warren Showgrounds. Guinea pigs and even a water monitor had to be saved. 
Paul Wellman

When Carpinteria residents were given evacuation orders on Friday, December 8, 11-year-old Buddy was fitted with a mask, loaded into a truck, and whisked to a friend’s house in north Goleta. The elderly pit bull mix, who is partially blind and deaf and has respiratory issues, couldn’t join his human in the hotel in which she was staying due its no-pets policy. While Buddy was able to stay with a friend, thousands of animals and their owners rely on county animal services and volunteer organizations for help during emergencies.

“So far we’ve had 947 animals come into our care due to the [Thomas Fire],” said Randy Friedman, marketing coordinator for Ventura County Animal Services. “That is an incredibly large number …. We are using rooms that are not intended for animal housing,” he explained. The shelter, which is located in Camarillo, has made space for horses, mules, peacocks, emus ​— ​“we had over 100 fowl come in from one location,” Friedman said ​— ​donkeys, and miniature horses, as well as cats and dogs. “It’s almost like a war relief effort; it’s disaster relief,” he said.

Although Ventura seems to be out of immediate danger, Friedman said they are staying vigilant. “[Ventura is] over the hump … but we are making room [for Santa Barbara needs]. We are nowhere near getting back to normal operations. We are still under emergency conditions,” he said.

Paul Wellman

Last Wednesday, day three of the fire, the Santa Barbara Polo & Racquet Club became a short-lived but important safe haven for animals being evacuated from Ojai and the surrounding areas. “We started accepting evacuees almost a week ago when fire started [encroaching] on Ojai,” said Melanja Jones, the club’s polo manager. “Fortunately our facility was 90 percent empty at that time. So many animals were displaced so fast.”

The property was housing 93 horses, four miniature horses, 37 alpacas, nine mules, four goats, four bunnies, two llamas, and two pet cows when the call came at 2:30 a.m. on Sunday for them to leave the premises due to the fire cresting the ridgeline directly east of the polo fields. Staff put out a request for help on social media, and within minutes volunteers began responding to load up the animals for transport to Earl Warren Showgrounds. Shannon McGraw, a former U.S. Marine, took charge of volunteers and coordinated efforts with S.B. Equine Assistance & Evacuation to get all the animals moved. “[The evacuation effort] started at about 3 a.m.,” said Jones. By 9 a.m. the grounds were empty, with the last animals to leave the two cows. “They were the hardest to load,” Jones said.

Fortunately, Earl Warren was ready to receive the new slew of occupants as it had been activated into duty by Santa Barbara County Animal Services when the Thomas Fire began on Monday, December 4, according to Scott Grieve, Earl Warren’s CEO. As of this writing, Tuesday, December 12, the facility has received more than a thousand animals, including 681 horses, 107 goats, 128 chickens, 20 pigs, 20 llamas, 36 ducks, four turkeys, and two Saint Bernards. Grieve also said that a number of those animals were slated to return home on Tuesday afternoon.

Animals Housed at Earl Warren Showgrounds

Paul Wellman
  • Horses: 681
  • Chickens: 128
  • Goats: 107
  • Ducks: 36
  • Sheep: 25
  • Llamas: 20
  • Pigs: 20
  • Cows: 10
  • Alpacas: 4
  • Turkeys: 4
  • Mule:s 3
  • St. Bernards: 2
  • Burros: 2
  • Donkeys: 1
  • Bull: 1
  • Emu: 1
  • Peacock: 1
Paul Wellman


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