Horses, alpacas evacuated from Loma Fire in Santa Cruz Mountains

WATSONVILLE, Calif. (KGO) -- In an area where horses and other animals out-number people, the Loma fire is putting hundreds and potentially thousands at risk. However, shelters have been set up for humans and their four-legged friends.

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So far, 27 horses were saved from the Loma Fire. The evacuation of horses was orchestrated by an all-volunteer group whose members virtually drop everything to mobilize and spring into action.

The fact that only a few people have utilized Red Cross evacuation centers indicates that residents have developed their own contingency plans, but not so much for their animals.

Animal control officer George DeLeon says horses, livestock, and barn animals far outnumber people in and around Loma Prieta. Many will need to be rescued.

"It can be anything from goats, pigs, horses, cattle," he said. "In the past we've had camels."

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And even four alpacas, who are staying in a horse stall at the Santa Cruz county fairgrounds. An army of certified volunteers with the Santa Cruz County Equine Evacuation Unit is on call with trailers to move horses and other animals at risk of an advancing fire.

"For some it means the difference between staying in their home and evacuating to safety," said Equine Evac Co-Chair Kenneth Coale. "Some owners won't leave their animals, and we're here to make sure everybody gets out okay."

Jack Flash is one of 27 horses that have been moved to the Graham Hill show grounds for safety. They're getting vet care and plenty of hay and water, out of the fire zone.

When asked if horses can sense danger, Mary Sullivan-White of California Wildfires Equine Evacuation said, "Yes. If they get irritated, agitated, hyper, they sense it. So they know something is going on."

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But here, they're at peace as are their owners, and there's room for more rescued animals.

"It all depends on the fire, how long the fire goes, how intense the fire is, how populated the area is, and where the fire is," said DeLeon. "It can be hundreds."

That means the volunteers with Equine Evac will be standing by for several days, working in conjunction with animal control officers and Cal Fire. We all know fire conditions can change quickly.

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