Friday, May. 24, 2024

California Horsemen Flee Fires Threatening Their Farms



Wildfires are once again threatening horsemen in California, as 2018 finishes up as one of the worst years on record for the state when it comes to the number of fires and damage caused.

The Camp Fire, which is currently burning north of Sacramento, is the deadliest in California history, with at least 42 dead and more than 200 missing. It’s about 30 percent contained as of Nov. 13 and has burned 125,00 acres.

The Woolsey Fire, located in Los Angeles and Ventura County, stretches across 96,000 acres and is 35 percent contained as of Nov. 13. Two people have died so far, and the wildfire caused a mandatory evacuation of the entire city of Malibu, California. Hunter/jumper trainers Traci and Carleton Brooks evacuated their Balmoral Farm Malibu location on Nov. 9.

“The fire was more towards the valley; it was over the hill from Malibu, and it wasn’t threatening us,” said Traci. “Once the fire jumped the 101 freeway, they made an announcement that it was possible it was going to burn to the ocean. Pretty much that was the time we decided to go.”


Traci and Carleton Brooks evacuated their Malibu-location after air quality became so poor. Photo courtesy of Traci Brooks.

The Brookses had 25 horses showing at the National Sunshine Series in Thermal, California, which meant they had room for the Malibu horses at their Los Angeles facility, located 15 miles west. The horses at the show will remain there until the situation in Malibu is resolved. Though access to the city is restricted, as far as they know their farm is intact.


“Even once they get the fire under control a little more, the air is bad,” Traci said. “There’s so much ash, and you can’t really ride or anything. Then the wind blows the ash, and really no people or horses should breathe that.

“A lot of people we know and friends have lost their home,” she continued. “It’s just scary that it’s so close, and it’s happening to people that we know. There’s nothing anybody can do, including us, because you can’t get into Malibu. We’ve had so many people reach out to us to ask what they can do, and we’re just grateful for everyone trying to help.”

Fellow hunter/jumper trainers Jenny and Kost Karazissis had to evacuate their Far West Farms in nearby Calabasas, California. Forty-six of their horses were moved to the Los Angeles Equestrian Center on Nov. 8.

“My daughter [Katrina] took it into her own hands and pretty much commanded the whole thing and made it happen,” said Jenny, who was also showing at the Sunshine Series. “It wasn’t mandatory, but we felt it was necessary to take the precaution to get them out. I was very proud of her. But not only her, everyone pitched in. My son [Kyle], who’s not in the horse business, happened to be home, and he helped get some things out of our house. He also went to the farm and did what he could, writing names and numbers on their halters because there was a lot of chaos.”

Jenny returned home Nov. 12, but the family is waiting to see what the fire will do before they move the horses back to the farm.


“Everybody has been so thoughtful to call and [offer] prayers and offering any assistance at all,” she said. “I really appreciate it. Especially the shippers; they’re going non-stop, and it’s just incredible, and it’s a threat to their own life in some circumstances. It’s just above and beyond—and the firefighters obviously. You’re so thankful when it comes to situations like this.”

Trainer Liz Reilly evacuated her Makoto Farms in Calabasas to Hansen Dam Equestrian Center in Sylmar, California. The house on the property burned to the ground, but she’s heard that the barn is still standing. Reilly also had to evacuate her home.

“It’s been very stressful,” she said. “A lot of people are really having a rough time. Fortunately I have insurance for if you’re displaced, but I don’t think most of these people do, so it’s really a huge hardship.”

Another area hunter/jumper trainer, Leslie Steele, hasn’t evacuated her Calabasas farm, Acres West, yet. She is currently housing an additional 10 displaced horses. Steele said she’s listening to the reports and will evacuate if needed.

“In 30 years we’ve [evacuated] once,” she said. “Some people think, ‘Why haven’t you left?’ But I don’t want to take resources from people who really need it, and they’re running out of places [to put horses]. If I need to go, I’ll have to go further south, but I don’t mind.

“We’re just hanging tight and praying for those people who have been going through it,” she continued. “It’s scary; it’s fire season. You don’t get used to it, but you hopefully get a sense of when you need to go and when you don’t need to go. I try to keep it minute by minute and stay on top of it. [The farm is] quite a ways from it.”




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