Hunter/jumper trainers Archie Cox and Dick Carvin and Francie Steinwedell-Carvin awoke in the pre-dawn hours on Dec. 5 to a call that they needed to evacuate immediately, as wildfires were closing in on their Southern California training facilities.
“It’s unbelievable how fast horse people can come together and get all of the horses,” said Cox, who operates Brookway Stables out of Middle Ranch in Lake View Terrace, Calif., also the home of the Carvins’ Meadow Grove Farms. “There are probably 200 horses at Middle Ranch alone, which is only one facility in our canyon, and all of the horses are out, and they are all safely at barns in the area.”
The Middle Ranch horses were initially evacuated to the nearby Hansen Dam Equestrian Center to get them out of immediate danger. Cox and the Carvins later transported their horses to the Los Angeles Equestrian Center in Burbank, Calif.
“It’s a pretty devastating experience, one I don’t ever want to live through again,” said Cox. “You have a new understanding of something traveling like wildfire. At the moment, we don’t know the extent of the damage, so at the moment, just say a prayer and keep your fingers crossed.”
At least half of Cox’s barn has been destroyed, and the Carvins also received word that their barn at Middle Ranch burned in the fire.
“It was really fast because the winds are so high,” said Steinwedell-Carvin. “We’ve been there at least 20 years in that same barn and 25 at the same place, and we’ve just been so lucky. We’re really grateful that no one got hurt and all the horses are good and the people are good. We’re just tired, but that’s nothing.”
In nearby Moorpark, Calif., Grand Prix dressage rider and trainer Hilda Gurney’s Keenridge Farm is under threat of a separate wildfire. They’ve evacuated a few of their show horses to a neighbor’s facility that has more protection. They’re monitoring the situation and will further evacuate if needed.
“We’ve been burned through this place four times already in the last 40 years, and we’ve never had a problem,” said Gurney. “Most of the horses are in dry pastures, so they’re not in any danger. They’re also at the bottom of the hill, and fires burn very slowly downhill, so we’re not in a huge risk compared to something at the top of the hill where the fires burn up. We’re supposed to have the winds tonight, and if we get through tonight we should be all right.”
On Dec. 6, the Los Angeles times reported nearly 30 horses were killed in Sylmar, Calif., at Rancho Padilla. The fire came up too quickly for the Padilla family to evacuate most of the animals.
“Honestly, it feels like we lost a big part of our family,” Patricia Padilla told the newspaper. “To see it all gone … it’s heartbreaking.”
Southern California currently has five active wildfires that have destroyed at least 180 structures.