Yesterday, between battling wind gusts and battening down the hatches (I think that's an old sailing term but it describes my windy day duties perfectly), I noticed the faint yet distinctive scent of smoke in the air. And this wasn't the smoke from a barbecue or a fireplace. It was the acrid, nose-stinging odor of a wildfire. The hills directly behind my new home had burned last year, right up to the backyard fence of one of my neighbors. Fortunately, neither homes nor horses were lost in that blaze. But some of the other horse lovers in this region aren't so lucky this year.
The smoke I'd detected was not from my immediate area. Instead it was an endless cloud of smoke produced by at least a half-dozen wildfires throughout Southern California. I knew it was bad when my friend, Andrea, called me on her cell phone. She had judged a horse show in Santa Barbara (about 2 hours north of L.A.) and was headed home. But the fire in Malibu had closed the freeway and she needed a circuitous route. I linked up to Mapquest and sent her inland. When she finally got home that night, she called to tell me that the route had taken her on a tour of many of the California fires.
"It's horrible," she said. "My car is covered in ash, like it was snowed on."
Then I read this news item in Horse Channel's breaking news section:
Horses Lost in Wildfire
It's particularly poignant to me as I've been to Golden Eagle Farm, where apparently so many horses were lost. The site is a bastion of quality homebred California Thoroughbreds. In fact, we encouraged our cousin to name her show horse in honor of one of Golden Eagle's most famous race horses, Best Pal. I can't imagine the horror felt by the staff at Golden Eagle Farm-- of seeing the wildfire, whipped by incredible winds, marching like an invading force of soldiers over the hillside. How do you save hundreds of horses in a matter of minutes?
My husband and I have already discussed just how we'd evacuate Wally and Lexi. And our town, Norco, is very much a horsekeeping community. There's a citywide evacuation plan for horses and large animals, as well as a long list of volunteers trained for such an emergency. If you have horses anywhere near a fire-prone area, I encourage you to have a plan in case you need to flee. Sometimes, when you smell smoke, it's already too late.
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