When the lightening storm rocked our area, the neighborhood Facebook Groups were all chattering about the thunderous wind storm that rolled through the San Lorenzo Valley at 4:15 a.m. sounding like a train. Many were convinced it was a tornado. That was news!
With that freakish wind storm, leafs, branches, and redwood duff filled the yard and deck with debris. We complained that our upcoming weekend would be filled with cleanup. Little did we know, we’d be evacuating from a fire!
We knew the fire was towards the ocean, at Butano State Park between San Mateo County and Santa Cruz County. We went to the beach that Saturday, seeing smoke, two fire engines on Swanton Road, and we drove home through Bonny Doon without a worry. Now, 50% of homes in Bonny Doon are gone. It’s horribly sad. From this windy beach day, we could never image the fire would end up 1 mile from our farm.
It was confusing at first to determine how many fires had started from the lightening storms and now knowing – they merged to become a massive blaze. The helicopters started flying over our house on Tuesday. For me, it’s always exciting to watch and hear them, see how low they fly with the water bucket trailing behind. They filled up with water at Loch Lomond Reservoir.
Tuesday, August 18, 2020
With the horrible news that the fire was spreading towards Boulder Creek, I texted and called my good friend Lisa whose farm is up Kings Highway. I told her she could bring the animals here during their evacuation. She has a cow, pony, donkey, 3 horses, 2 angora goats, 2 angora babies, 2 baby-doll sheet babies, dogs, and numerous chickens.
That evening, in a panic, Lisa rushed over with 2 horses and the babies. She had already started transporting some of her other animals to Camp Kennolyn in Soquel.
We set up a perimeter fence to keep the horses separated. She was concerned Shasta would be a butt. Turns out my horses were super mellow and curious, and her horses were more hyper due to the situation. The babies were locked inside the horse stall.
Wednesday, August 19, 2020
This day will be a day we will never forget. The worst day of my life. The sky darkened and filled with smoke. The helicopters raced overhead, probably 3 every half an hour. Ash and burnt leaves were falling from the sky.
All night, Lisa’s daughter, Mazera, was messaging that they were evacuating from Boulder Creek and needed to come over and meet Lisa here. Lisa had heard from her son who lives in Brookdale that soon, our town, Ben Lomond, would be evacuating. Mazera arrived from Boulder Creek around 7am with two cars packed with chickens, roosters, and dogs. I texted friends to see if anyone could take the roosters for her, and we could house the chickens. Lisa arrived around 8am and devised a plan to take their animals out. Instead of leaving more animals, Lisa loaded everyone up, and they left to go to Soquel.
Now, I could focus on our farm and our animals. I called into work and took the day off. I noticed that many people were voluntarily evacuating, including all our neighbors. We had decided we would not leave unless under mandatory evacuations. To feel productive and less panicked, Mike swept all the redwood debris off the roof.
I focused on the horses. I contacted numerous horse-rescue/assistance phone numbers which were all wrong. Finally, I got hooked up with Equine Rescue and Mary Sullivan-White. I filled out the online forms and emailed those to her. I made the decision that I DID want the horses evacuated now, but when I called Mary she had no one with a trailer as everyone was helping evacuate from the Felton Horseshow grounds to the Santa Cruz County Fairgrounds. Now, I was really worried.
We started packing before the mandatory evacuation notice. Loading up the big dog and cat crates for the chickens, putting chicken food in garbage bags. We have a 4×6 trailer and loaded up the horse grass thinking I’d bring that to them at their evacuated shelter. All their grain, water containers, feed bags, horse rake, etc. filled the trailer. Inside the car, we had an ice chest, and room for only a few personal belongings. I took a few shirts, but no personal mementos because there was no room. I felt okay with making sure the animals were well cared for.
At 10:12pm, we got the mandatory evacuation notice. It was time to go! I called Mary Sullivan-White to tell her we had to leave the horses. She said that she’ll send someone in the morning. I left them a full feed bag and put Shasta’s halter and lead rope on. I duct taped my name and number on bell boots, one for each horse.
In the dark with propane tanks exploding like distant bombs, we loaded up the chickens 2 by 2 and carried them to the car. They were zoned out so it was perfect. We left our home around 12:00 a.m. not knowing if we’d ever see it again. The CHP had already set up a road block so I stopped and said that Equine Rescue needed to get in in the morning. A woman wrote down something on a note pad as the cats were crying and having a fit in their carriers. My neighbor said he got in no problem on Thursday morning and there was not a road block which is interesting. Looters were out and about taking advantage of the evacuations.
Thursday, August 20, 2020
At 1:15 a.m. we arrived at my parents house in Sunnyvale with 2 cats and 15 chickens. They were very accommodating and gracious to let us stay for 10 days. The chickens had a ball in their backyard, free ranging. At night, we would put them in the garage in crates. The neighbors brought over their two young children for a visit.
At 11:40 a.m. Minerva Carrasco posted on Ben Lomond Neighbors that she was going in to town, and asked if anyone needed anything. I asked her to go to our house and check if the horses were there or not. I had received an email that the horses were evacuated at 6:30 a.m. Minerva sent me photos of the corral with no horses. I was so happy!
Rebekah Lynn from Boulder Creek, a volunteer with Equine Rescue, got the horses that morning. I found out later through Cowboy 911 that she was the one, and we had a nice lunch at Casa Nostra to talk about horse rescue and share stories. She will come over with her trailer for more practice sessions. Equine Rescue is very organized, professional, and communicative. Every time I called Mary, she answered, and I could tell from her voice she was tired, but on top of it to rescue livestock.
The horses were taken to the Santa Cruz Horsemen’s Association Showgrounds in Felton. Rebekah shared a story that they took off Shasta’s Halter, but it took her and her daughter over 15 minutes to get it back on. She was wondering why he had a halter and lead rope already on him at our home, and she was thankful. So, she duct taped his halter buckle and wrote on it with a sharpie not to remove. That’s Shasta for you!
With Felton being evacuated next, all the animals had to be taken to the Santa Cruz County Fairgrounds in Watsonville. Shasta and Snickers were each given a stall, but they were not able to be put together. This was the first time they had been separated since 2008.
Friday, August 21, 2020
We arrived at the Fairgrounds after our evacuation to visit the horses. We checked in and had no idea where they were. My heart was racing as I had heard stories about horses evacuated to Almaden etc. due to lack of space at the fairgrounds. We walked aisle by aisle. Then, they told us to go check the arena stalls, that they remember a pony over there. Also, my friend had her horses at the fairgrounds, and I asked her to keep an eye out for their arrival. But, she didn’t know the arena stalls were being used. We kept asking people as we were looking around for a pony. They said “check stall #3.” and there was Shasta!! He could barely look out the door. Snickers was two stalls away and let out a big welcoming Neigh! I was so happy to see them and very relieved that they were safe and well cared for. The staff and volunteers at the evacuation center were amazing. Once we identified the horses, we completed forms with our information, and I made sure they had feeding bags, and I left grass, apples, and senior feed.
Within a few days, I got calls and texts from Jessica Schattenburg, the Equine Rescue Manager at the Santa Cruz County Fairgrounds. She shared the unfortunate news that Snickers, my 31 year old senior Arab, was dehydrated, not eating or drinking, and pre-colic. She said she was having the vet out for a visit and could put him on fluids. By 9am, I was out the door on my way to Santa Cruz in tears. I wanted to meet the vet and be there for the visit. Jessica was calling as I was driving so I only heard her messages AFTER I got to the Fairgrounds an hour away.
Being the amazing group of people they are, Jessica already contacted her resources and found a foster family for the horses with the Walls family in Soquel. I arrived at the Fairgrounds expecting the worst, but instead, Shasta and Snickers were out on lead ropes eating grass. I thought these two individuals with the horses were volunteers. I had no idea. I went over and started talking to them, and they said they were taking the horses home. I broke down, emotionally drained, and another wave of relief swept over me.
Faith and her father were at the fairgrounds with their trailer. They work non-stop to foster and assist with senior horses at their home. I talked to Jessica, and Snickers had been given the Okay by the vet to be transported. He did not need fluids after all; he needed to be moved to an environment suitable for his lifestyle, such as being in a corral with Shasta. The Walls family could provide that level of comfort.
Getting Snickers into the trailer was not an easy move. He was not having it. The Walls have a two horse straight load trailer. We put Shasta in first, and he was a champ. Snickers, not so much. After a short battle, another volunteer at the Fairgrounds used a slant load, and between two men pushing his butt, one person on the lead, and another on his side, he went in. He’ll need to practice loading, and Rebekah Lynn kindly volunteered to bring over her trailer until I buy one.
After about an hour of drama, the horses made it safely to their foster family home with the Walls Family. The trailer stopped on the road, and Faith walked the horses down to the paddock area, with her mom, April.
The horses immediately relaxed and became horses again, meaning that they could roam the field, smell the grass, and roll in the dirt. Also, Shasta immediately found the apples and parked himself under the shady apple tree, just like home!
The horses landed in the perfect spot. Faith texted me photos of Shasta’s first groom session. She felt comfortable taking off his halter.
We basically settled in for the long haul as far as not knowing when the fire or evacuations would end. It was a nerve-wracking experience monitoring maps, Facebook neighborhood groups, texts, etc. Exhausting. Knowing the horses were safe was all I needed for the time being to function, work, and pray that our home and community survived.
One weekends, I’d drive over to Soquel to visit the horses, bring needed food items and medications. On one trip, I stopped at the 7th Ave. Santa Cruz County Animal Shelter to drop off some dog crates and cat liter boxes we had collected from the City of Santa Clara clean out. I was amazed at the amount of donations of animal items, food, cages, etc. for fire evacuees. So generous!
To keep myself busy, I contacted my friend Bryan who was staying at a hotel in Sunnyvale with his cats and dogs. I saw his photo of 3 cats on the bed, and I asked him if he wanted some cat scratching posts, I had also collected. My cats weren’t interested after a day. He gladly accepted them, and his cats were so happy having their own quiet zone for comfort.
Horses with the Walls Family
The Walls Family was fostering another senior horse from the Fairgrounds, a 38 year old gelding named Raffles, evacuated from Boulder Creek. Faith moved our horses into a new paddock area as she re-arranged spacing for the best situation as she also has her own horses.
In this larger area, the boys still chilled out under the shade of trees. Faith would practice haltering Shasta and groom him as he needs Swat and fly spray, he’s very allergic to fly bites.
August 30, 2020 – Return Home
We were evacuated for 10 days. We brought the chickens home on a Sunday night, drove back to my parents to spend the night and then returned on Monday morning with the cats. The wonderful news, the house survived and not many plants had died without water. The best news, our feral cat Snootles came right out, she never left. We were so happy to see her!
Even after returning home, the helicopters were still making water runs, and the smoke filled the air. The house did smell, but after a week of airing it out, it was fine. We were also lucky to not leave any food behind to rot in the refrigerator. So many people thought it would be a short evacuation so rotten, smelly food ruined their refrigerators.
Due to the work week, the unknowns of safe drinking water, and a mess of ash and leaf debris, we waited to bring the horses home. The horses have never been gone in 12 years. It was apparent that my routine and internal clock were set for horse feeding, horse sounds, horses in the yard, horses, horses, horses! It was too quiet without them. I wanted them home.
Saturday, September 5, 2020, Horses Come Home!
In preparation for the return home and knowing Snickers did not load in the Wall’s 2-horse straight load trailer, I contacted Adobe Vet about some kind of sedation option. It was recommended that we give Snicker’s a gel sedation 45 mins. before the trailer time. On Friday night, I brought over the sedation gel for Faith to administer. Fortunately, Vet Chuck Kessinger is her neighbor so that morning, he came over to see the horses, and he recommended she up the dosage after seeing Snicker’s size and weight.
I showed up at the Wall’s house around 9am, and the horses were haltered and ready to go. Snickers looked sedated. We chatted for about half an hour, and finally the comment was made that we should get going or the sedation could wear off. They thought I had a friend coming with a trailer, and I thought they were bringing the boys home in their trailer. They jumped into action and got their truck and trailer hooked up, and we loaded all the horse supplies, food, and bales of grass. Ready to come home!
We are extremely grateful to the Walls Family for their wonderful devotion to animals in need, their kind spirit, and their thoughtful care. We are eternally grateful to Jessica Schattenburg, Mary Sullivan-White, Rebekah Lynn, and the volunteers at Equine Rescue for evacuating Shasta and Snickers and ensuring their care and safety. There is never-ending thanks in my heart for all they do for animals.
The Ben Lomond Volunteer Fire Department saved our town. They worked non-stop with local agencies, volunteers, tree experts, etc. to hold the line and make sure the fire did not cross Highway 9. The community supports the BLVFD with signs, thank-yous, and purchases of merchandise for sale at the fire department.
We did learn from this scary and unfortunate disaster that we need a plan. We bought a 4WD Diesel truck and now we want to get a horse trailer to be able to evacuate the horses. We are also contacting local ranches in a range of areas as a place to go, if necessary. We will move forward and try to help those less fortunate, those who did lose their homes or had fire damage. The San Lorenzo Valley is strong and resilient. We are blessed to be apart of this community.