Most residents had plans, reducing the number of needed evacuations

Published in the October 26 – November 8, 2016 issue of Morgan Hill Life

By Robert Airoldi

horse-rescueShortly after the Loma Fire broke out on a sunny Sept. 26 afternoon and quickly began to spread through the Santa Cruz Mountains west of Morgan Hill, dozens of ranchers and families enacted evacuation plans for their animals. About 170 horses were safely taken to safety by their owners or caretakers.

For those who had no plans, or were not home at the time, the Santa Clara County Large Animal Evacuation Team responded. Four teams of at least two people each were sent to three separate locations in the path of the blaze. Two of those were Jayne and Dusty Perryman of Morgan Hill, who have volunteered since the organization formed in 2011.
After getting the call, the couple grabbed their “go-bag,” which includes spare clothes, a jacket, water, toothbrush and other necessities.

“We got gas in the truck, connected the trailer, grabbed our ‘go-bag’ and ham radio and headed out,” Dusty said.

When they arrived the early morning hours of Tuesday Sept. 27 about 16 hours after the fire started, they listened in on an incident conference call at base camp where they briefed everybody.

“They had just sent a team to pick up two large horses,” Jayne said.

Cindy Stewart, emergency planning coordinator for the Santa Clara County Office of Emergency Services, described them as “two of the largest horses I’ve ever seen.” One weighed 1,600 pounds, the other 1,800 pound. His name was Goliath, she added. “The owner did not have a trailer large enough to move the two horses, so a team was sent in.”

Photo courtesy Jayne Perryman Left, Catrina Christian with the state Operation of Emergency Services, and Cindy Stewart with the Santa Clara County OES, greet Goliath after he was evacuated from the Loma Fire.

Photo courtesy Jayne Perryman
Left, Catrina Christian with the state Operation of Emergency Services, and Cindy Stewart with the Santa Clara County OES, greet Goliath after he was evacuated from the Loma Fire.

The SCCLAET works at the direction of the state and county Office of Emergency Services with help from CalFire and the Santa Clara County Sheriff’s office.

“We only do what we are told to do,” she said. “We rescue when there are no other options and we should only go in behind the fire lines as a last resort.”

Luckily, that scenario never presented itself. The four teams safely evacuated 22 horses, two ostriches and at least one cow by the end of the day Tuesday.

Both Stewart and the Perrymans attributed the relatively small number of animals that needed to be rescued to the residents living in the area.

“Most everyone who lives in the area has a plan to evacuate,” Jayne said. “Some people have binders of plans. There has to be an individual plan for each horse.”

Santa Clara County Supervisor Mike Wasserman, whose district includes the area burned by the fire, agreed.

“The lack of any tragic loss of life really speaks volumes,” he said. “Thankfully, residents were prepared for emergency evacuation and CalFire did a tremendous job coordinating the response with dozens of agencies, volunteer organizations and hundreds of residents. I heard many accolades for the volunteers of the Santa Clara County Large Animal Evacuation Team who made sure that no horse was left behind, even providing horse trailers in some cases.”

The fire was contained Oct. 12 after burning 4,474 acres. Twelve residences, and 16 outbuildings were destroyed. One residence was damaged. Both Jayne and Dusty said this was the first time they had been called out in this type of situation and that they learned few things.

“It was a good training experience for our first time,” Jayne said. She said the group will conduct a debriefing exercise as part of the process. “We’ll examine everything and make adjustments where needed. We need to understand what we need to do better when the big one comes,” she said. One thing they said they’d do is get bigger and better ham radios to more effectively communicate in remote areas.

The couple, who married in 1989 and moved into a home in northeast Morgan Hill in 1997, owns three horses. Jayne rides regularly.

“We got involved with the understanding that there was a need and we have an interest,” she said. “I ride my horses in those hills and I’ll ride a trail on Casa Loma Road sometime in the future that will probably be burned out.”

Stewart was pleased with the response of her team and those of the SCCLAET.

“Everything went off very smooth for the most part,” Stewart said.

Then she somberly revealed that there were two casualties.

“One homeowner whose house was damaged lost an out building where a rabbit lived, and a puppy perished in a motor home that was destroyed. Those were our two casualties,” she said. “My heart is still breaking.”