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SOUTHLAND WILDFIRES: COPING WITH THE THREAT

Taking care of horses in path of blaze

Lessons learned in previous fires helped many animal evacuations go smoothly. Others were more chaotic.

October 14, 2008|Ann M. Simmons and Gale Holland | Times Staff Writers

Claudia Cahill returned home from Switzerland on Sunday, switched on the television and learned that the Marek wildfire was bearing down on the Lake View Terrace horse ranch that stabled her beloved Doonesbury.

"I was worried. She's my kid!" the retired computer industry worker said of her 23-year-old Dutch warmblood.

In evacuations that went like clockwork in some fire-threatened areas and a proceeded a bit more chaotically in others, Los Angeles County animal control officials, veterinary volunteers and stable owners moved hundreds of horses to safety over the last two days -- even those animals whose owners, like Cahill, were too far away to come to the rescue.

Trainers at North Middle Ranch brought Doonesbury and 29 other boarders to the Hansen Dam Equestrian Center, where every stall, portable show box and spot along the fence rails was filled with four-legged evacuees. Cahill was able to pay a reassuring visit to Doonesbury on Monday afternoon, although some of the temporary boarders were already moving on to less crowded shelters.

"We've been able to use some other facilities. Ours is full now," said Sterling Champ, the new owner of Hansen Dam. He and former owner Eddie Milligan had well over 300 horses in their care at the height of the evacuations. Champ praised the county's speed and thoroughness in dispatching trailers and animal-control specialists to collect threatened animals, attributing smooth work to the experience gained from previous wildfires.

In an exodus from the fast-moving Porter Ranch fire Monday, the rescue was more ad hoc. About a dozen horses were led along Chatsworth Street that afternoon in search of a safe place to shelter. Although a little jittery, the horses mostly remained calm, their owners said.

Tracy Acevedo, 36, of Van Nuys led her palomino to Cattani Stables. She had gone to Tres Palmas Ranch, below Stoney Point, to show her horse, but was forced to flee.

"There's flames everywhere," she said.

Cindy Todd, who evacuated two horses, had been trying to help other equestrians find shelter for their horses once Cattani filled up.

She directed Acevedo to an outdoor arena that had room for eight more.

Volunteers wearing paper masks fanned out looking for other horses trapped in barns and stables in the area cut off from concerned owners by roadblocks and massive traffic snarls created by freeway closures. One person said 100 to 150 horses had been turned loose in Brown's Canyon as the flames neared because they could not be evacuated in time.

Domestic pets and farm animals were welcomed at Pierce College in Woodland Hills, the Los Angeles Police Department said.

A holding area for household pets also was set up at the San Fernando High School evacuation center, where the majority who fled the Marek fire took shelter.

County animal shelters also filled up as families fled with dogs, cats, birds, snakes and hamsters. At Chatsworth High School, one couple clutched 2-month-old Doberman pinscher puppies as they awaited word on the path of the blaze above Topanga Canyon Boulevard.

The fires were also feared to pose a threat to California condor nests on the canyon crags, said Angeles National Forest spokesman Stanton Florea. The condor, beneficiary of the most expensive species rescue ever undertaken, remains one of the world's rarest bird species.

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ann.simmons@latimes.com

gale.holland@latimes.com

Times staff writers Carol J. Williams, Rong-Gong Lin II and Francisco Vara-Orta contributed to this report.

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(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX)

In the air we share

Wildfire doesn't just burn homes, it spreads dangerous air pollution far and wide, potentially harming people who live miles away from the blaze.

Although precise measurements are hard to determine, the South Coast Air Quality Management District issued a warning Monday that air in the San Fernando Valley and portions of the San Gabriel Mountains may reach unhealthy levels.

The agency advised that with strong Santa Ana winds, fine particulates and dust, which aggravate asthma and other conditions, could reach as far as the San Bernardino Valley, southwest Riverside County, Orange County, the South Bay-Long Beach area and the Santa Monica-Malibu area.

The AQMD said that in areas affected by smoke or windblown dust, "everyone should avoid any vigorous outdoor or indoor exertion; people with respiratory or heart disease, the elderly and children, should remain indoors."

Affected residents should keep windows and doors closed unless it is extremely hot. If it is, seek alternate shelter. Run your air conditioners, but keep the fresh air intake closed, the agency advised.

Check for advisories at www.aqmd.gov or call (800) 288-7664.

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On latimes.com

More coverage

More on the Southern California brush fires is available on latimes.com, including:

* A comprehensive list of closed roads, freeways, schools and neighborhoods.

* Updates on the fires in Orange, San Bernardino and Ventura counties.

* A dispatch from Porter Ranch, where residents decided to take a stand.

* A dispatch from Lake View Terrace, where nervous residents awaited word on their homes.

* Photo galleries, video, interactive graphics and maps and more.

latimes.com/california.

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