Sunday, June 22, 2008

No marshmallows?

So we had a long evening around here last night. It started off with us trying to get the family in the car to go have dinner out with some friends. Lennie, the owner of the stable where Jen keeps her horse Justice, was celebrating a birthday so several of the folks who board horses with her were taking her out for dinner. Just as we were packing up to go, Sean decided he was hungry right now so Jen did her thing and started to get him settled. We were running late of course, so while Jen was busy with Sean, I was busy loading the rest of the car and getting Keira ready to go. Since it was a birthday dinner we were all dressed a little more upscale than usual.

Warning graphic scene follows

I was just getting Keira in the carseat when she decided that her tummy wasn't too happy with her latest snack. With no good rag in sight, I managed to do a quick save of the first wave of vomit using my hands, however Keira pulled away from me on the second heave, and managed to catch me full on in the face. She caught me right in the eyes, which immediately started to burn, so I ended up dropping the first handful in her lap and stumbled back from the car, banging my head on the door frame as I went. Keira let go with one small third heave as I stumbled around looking for something to wipe the burning vomit out of my eyes, yelling for Jen who of course was pretty much incapacitated dealing with Sean.

End of graphic scene

Anyways, one change of clothes later for Keira (amazingly she managed to miss my clothes altogether) and we were off, now having gone from the slightly late category to the very late category.

The weather that day had been really unusual. We've had a bit of a heat wave recently, with highs ranging above 38C degrees (100 F). When I had gotten up to go running at 0630 that morning it was already 25C (80F) and had quickly gotten hotter over the course of the day. At noon some black clouds had moved in and we got a good size lightning storm. However at 1400 the clouds cleared up and we were back to hot weather.

As Jen and I were driving to dinner we could see fires up in the hills started by the lightning. Billows of smoke and licks of flames were actually visible from the highway. The fires looked to be in the general vicinity of the ranch where Jen keeps Justice but it was difficult to tell from the highway. As a back up measure we decided we should maybe find somewhere for Justice to hang out just in case things got interesting. Since Jen was driving, I got on the phone and called up Carla and Ritchie, some good friends of ours up in San Jose, who have room for an extra horse or two. As it turns out Carla and Ritchie were actually on the road and were going to be driving past the stables on their way home with an empty trailer at about 2000 and were more than happy to pick up Justice enroute and stable him for the night if necessary. We thanked them and told them we'd let them know if we needed them.

When we got to the restaurant, we told everyone there about the fires and Lennie said that she wasn't really concerned as it was a long ways away from her place. So we sat down to have dinner, with occasional phone calls being made to various folks in the California Dept of Forestry (CDF) who are responsible for the non-municipal fires in the area. Jen decided that she wanted Justice moved no matter what because even if there was no fire danger, there was a lot of smoke, so she called up Carla and Ritchie and asked them to stop by the stable. After we had finished dinner we headed home with the plan that Jen and Sean were going to quickly head back up to the ranch and help Carla and Ritchie load up Justice. As we were pulling into our driveway, Carla called to let us know that they were already at the ranch and were loading up Justice immediately as the fire was just one hill over.

Jen and I decided we didn't want Sean in the smoke, but that we needed to get all of Jen's gear that she had up there, so I threw on some old clothes and headed out to the stables. I arrived there about the same time that everyone else who'd been at dinner arrived to check up on their horses. The fire was still one hill over but was moving pretty fast towards the ranch, however since it was a grassfire, the front line was pretty thin. I grabbed all of Jen's stuff out of her tack room, tossed it into the truck, and hooked up her trailer to the truck. Since Justice was out of there, I figured I'd stick around and help out other folks if necessary. Most of the other folks were watching the fire and things really didn't get to exciting until suddenly it was visible at the top of the hill. The wind was blowing pretty hard at this point so everybody else started loading horses. Lennie figured there was about 50 horses on the property so we started going to grab them. The CDF trucks arrived at this point and between the fire, all the people and vehicles, and the firetruck lights going, even the most bomb proof horses weren't that keen about loading, and several of the horses weren't what I would describe as bombproof. I sort of went from group to group helping where I could. I don't know the layout of the land very well, and I don't know the names of the various horses. Several times people asked me if I could go get "Lancelot" or "Hillbilly" (the names have been changed to protect the innocent horses) and I would ask where he was, and they'd say something like "in the paddock right beside 'Humphrey'. He's the roan with the brown socks." You try picking out a panicked horse in the dark when you don't know who Humphrey is, and there's seven horses in the paddock, all of whom could be defined as roan.

Back at home, Jen was trying to figure out places for the horses to stay and find other folks with trailers. She had a couple of people organized, and asked Carla and Ritchie if they could return and help out. I had called Jen and told her that the truck was low on gas, and that my cellphone was dying. She rounded up two of our neighbours, John and Marty, and got them to bring me a couple of gallons of gas. I thought there was something ironic about bringing gas to a fire, but I was happy to have the safety zone of a couple of extra gallons in the tank.

Meanwhile back at the ranch, we continued to load up horses and gear. Aside from problems with panicky horses, we had a few people problems. Lots of people showed up and wanted to help, several with large trailers, but organization was difficult. The road into the ranch is narrow and bumpy, causing more issues as we ran into traffic jams both coming and going. Horses were being loaded wherever they could, and I'm sure several people are spending the day today trying to figure out where their animals actually ended up. Some people were a little panicky which caused some minor confrontations, but all in all the evacuation went reasonably well. Carla and Ritchie returned with two large trailers, and both of them are experienced with controlled chaos situations as well as being extremely good horsepeople. Between the three of us I think we ended up loading some of the more difficult horses, with me just there as spare muscle that was reasonably good at dodging flying hooves. A couple of times Carla and I ended up with Ritchie pulling on the reins out front while we snuck up behind the horse with our hands locked together and basically heaved the horse into the trailer from behind. As Carla said, "If you stay close to the horse he can't kick you because he can't wind up". The only trick is getting that close without getting kicked on the way there. The last two horses we loaded up were a pair of yearlings who were barely halter broken, let alone happy about trailers. As Carla and I used our lock and heave method to toss the last one into the trailer with Lennie pulling on the reins, I slipped on the gravel while dodging the horse and landed flat on my tailbone, which knocked the wind out of me for a second or two. These final horses were loaded at about 0030 Sunday morning, but there were still people loading gear. I helped load up the last of the trucks, one of whom was owned by an older lady with a (previously) broken wrist. It turned out she couldn't get home because the road to her place was closed off, so I invited her back to our place for the night. She happily accepted, except that she wanted to check on her now transplanted horses on the way home. I headed home myself and got home about 0130. It took our house guest a little longer to find her horses than she expected, arriving at our place about 0230 when we all finally got to bed.

As it turned out the fire appears to have been controlled a couple of hundred feet away from the ranch, so no buildings, people or owned animals were hurt. I don't have any pictures since I was saving my cell phone battery for more important things, but this article about the fire, now known as "The Hummingbird Fire" gives you an idea of what things were looking like.

So aside from a bruised tail bone, a little sleep deprivation, and some really nasty boogers this morning from the smoke, all appears to be well. Jen is currently up at Carla and Ritchie's checking on Justice, and I'm thinking about having a short nap. I'm just happy to have actually written a story where I could honestly use the line "Meanwhile back at the ranch"...

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Barney said...


As another member of the volunteer squad that helped move those horses. You paint a very vivid picture of what its like to successfully save almost 75 horses, so don't be so modest. Your help was greatly appreciated as were Carla's and Richie"s.

Dave said...

Thanks Barney, although calling yourself a "member" of the squad is being way to modest yourself. You were far more a "leader" than a "member" ;-)

Mary said...

What a story. So glad that it all turned out so well. It sounds like it could very easily have had a different ending. Well done!