California Wildfires Threaten Horses and their Owners
College Station, Texas - October 31, 2007 With its ample, quality grazing land, beautiful landscape, perfect climate and thriving economy, Southern California is prime horse country. But the same land that has been a haven for the horse industry has become a fiery hazard for horses and their owners. The fires that have been burning since Oct. 20 have scorched 520,000 acres, engulfed 2,000 homes and forced the evacuation of an estimated 500,000 people.
San Diego County, the hardest hit by the wildfires, is the California leader in the sale of equines, as reported by the United States Department of Agriculture. The county is home to 300,000 horses and is an epicenter for Thoroughbred and Quarter Horse racing breeders.
Heroic Efforts to Save Lives: Human and Equine
Horse owners, animal rescue units and volunteers have been making extreme efforts to save equine lives. Along with firefighters, the San Diego Humane Society, the Human Society of the United States and the California Veterinary Medical Association have dispatched teams to rescue horses and offer veterinary medical treatment. In addition to rescuing horses, horse owners and volunteers are faced with the challenge of finding places to house the equine evacuees. The animals have mostly been placed at official, large-animal evacuation centers that have been set up free of cost and at private farms and ranches that have donated available space. Hay, feed and veterinary medical attention have largely been provided by donation.
Del Mar Fairgrounds and Racetrack, 20 miles north of San Diego, has become home to 2,000 horses and many horse owners who are sleeping in the grandstands. Volunteers with the Tijuana Valley Equestrian Association reported placing 300 rescued horses on farms and ranches. Fiesta Island in Mission Bay is housing over 140 horses, while the Lakeside Rodeo Grounds are holding 350. Vessels Stallion Farm in Bosnall, a private breeding facility, is currently home to 300 horses. Countless horses are being kept at other private farms and ranches that are outside of evacuation zones.
With horses and owners being spread throughout Southern California, it is unknown how many the fires have displaced. Until the flames are under control and evacuees are permitted to return to their property, the damages to individuals and to the horse industry as a whole will be unknown.
While none of the major breeding facilities, veterinary facilities or horse farms in San Diego County have reported any deaths, a fire of this magnitude is certain to claim the lives of horses. Some horse owners were forced to evacuate before they could save their animals, some did not have horse trailers and others were unable to return to their property to rescue their remaining horses after taking one trailer-full to safety.
Despite the tragedies that are likely to ensue, rescue workers have reported that most horse owners were able to safely evacuate with their horses-a major improvement from the wildfires of 2003. Time will reveal what the damages have been to the horse industry. For now, the California horse community is coming together to support each other and save their animals.
Reporting by Erin Sullivan, Texas A&M University
About the Center for Equine Business Studies
Approved in concept by The Texas A&M University System's Board of Regents, the Center for Equine Business Studies at Texas A&M University is to become a valuable and constantly available resource for all aspects of the equine industry as it works to provide economic and market information to the industry. The Center will focus its studies on the impact of the horse industry, environmental and tax issues; provide economic analysis of the potential impacts of programs and proposed legislation on the U.S. and international horse industries; as well as develop entrepreneurship training for the many small businesses that serve as the lifeblood to the industry's economic landscape.