Sunday, August 7, 2011

Holy Smokes - It's a fire!

This weekend was NOT what anyone would expect.  It's the weekend before the Gold Coast Arabian Horse Association show in Watsonville.  The show I've been eagerly waiting for since I got Blu.  It's what I've been planning as my first show with Blu.  If all goes well it should still work out.  But Blu hurt his leg and needs a couple days off.  And a new shoe.

How'd he hurt his leg?  It was probably during maelstrom of helicopters and California Department of Forestry planes flying directly overhead fighting the 36 acre grass fire that thankfully was stopped by Cal Fire on the properties next door to Todd's ranch!  Yikes.

No one has a barbecue this big :-(

When it started we'd just said bye to Bill who had finished his lesson and was trailering Rocky home, Todd went in the house for a bite to eat and Sharon and I were finishing up loading the trailer with all the show gear we'd need for next week.  She and I looked over the valley and saw some smoke.  Not a lot of smoke - we actually were wondering if someone was having a barbecue.  But in the time it took for us to look over, think that, and realize that it was getting bigger by the second and start for the house to notify Todd - Todd came out of the house in a hurry.  He had seen the smoke and knew it was bad news.  He and Mike got the water tank trailer (that's normally used to water the arena to keep down dust) hooked up to the dually and raced off down the neighbors driveway.  We found out later that they were the last line of defense between the fire and their neighbors house.  They stopped the fire just short of the house!  Sharon and I were going to walk down the arena to take a look to see how close it was.  But I don't think we'd taken 20 steps when we saw the smoke out behind the barn and realized that it had traveled a big distance on the other side of the hill in just minutes!!  All of the sudden we realized how quickly it was growing from our view and that it was probably heading up the valley at the base of Todd's lower pasture!  Holy Smokes!  And then we heard the planes.  I don't think 5 minutes had passed - though it felt like an hour - and above us there were two Cal Fire planes flying overhead.  I snapped a couple photos.

Cal Fire plane circling overhead

Then I switched to video because they were dropping fire retardant right next door!. It was a sight I hope to NEVER see again!  Much as I think Fire Fighters are the coolest, I really, really don't want to be this close to them in action again!  Let me assure you it isn't all fun and games.  And they earn their living!  My hat is off to them.

The first video - I was just videoing the smoke and this plane came shooting through!

These videos show how close the fire truly was - it burned past the neighbors fence you can see and into his yard which was just dried brush and would have continued on a path across his property and Todd's lower pasture would have been next.

When we could see and hear the crackling flames next door (boy did that give me goose bumps and make the hair stand up on my arms) we knew it was time to move the horses.  They were in the lower pasture which, while it didn't have a lot of fuel for the fire, wasn't a place we wanted to leave any horses with the fire in sight.

Sharon, Sue and I began a very orderly evacuation of the horses from the back pasture to the front pasture - getting them as far from the danger as possible while still on the property.  We each took one horse at a time and all the while we were leading them the planes and a helicopter were flying DIRECTLY overhead.  The helicopters were flying a route between the fire and a nearby pond so they could get their water refilled.  It was in a direct line from the fire over Todd's ranch to the pond.  The most challenging horse I moved was Zoey the big Percheron mare.  She was a sweetheart but she's SO BIG that it's really more like moving a barge and I pretty much pushed against her shoulder guiding her in the direction I wanted to go.  Luckily she wanted to go that direction too, and she never tried to get away - even with those helicopters overhead (I swear while I was moving Zoey the helicopter went in slow motion right overhead the whole time).  I liked her before this weekend but I like here even more now!  What a sweetheart!

Actually all the horses were very well behaved!  I look back on it and just wonder how they stayed so calm.  I can hope that it was because we were calm and they sensed that so they stayed calm.  I mean there were those BIG Cal Fire planes flying overhead dropping the red fire retardant (and if you ever wondered if horses can see color - just ask me - they didn't mind the planes or helicopters much except when they dropped the red stuff out.  That's when they would start galloping around.), there were helicopters, fire trucks, Firefighters in their yellow fire suits and face masks (probably looked like aliens to the horses), sirens, smoke and not the least was the actual FIRE.  I can still hear the crackling in my mind.

While we moved the horses the firefighters did a great job and stopped the fire in the neighbor's yard so we never had to worry about actually getting the horses off the property.  Todd came back from his and Mike's firefighting efforts and that's when we learned how close it got to the neighbors' house closest to where the fire actually started.  (the article mentions they cause is still under investigation but we're thinking it was started by someone flicking a cigarette butt out a window...)  The used their fire hose and doused the flames at the back yard just yards from the house.

When they had the fire contained the helicopter landed next door and picked up some of the firefighters.  It landed in the field next to Todd's and we leaned on the fence and waved and cheered them as they took off.  They acknowledged us by waving back and hitting the siren (yep - Fire helicopters have sirens too!).

There were fire trucks around for hours, driving up and down driveways checking for hot spots.  The fire started at 2:30 and they said it was fully contained at 6pm.  It felt like hours and I guess it really was.

It was now safe to move the horses back to their normal paddocks and stalls.  Once all the other horses were put away Sharon and I went and got Nazz and Blu who had been in turnout all day, even before the fire.  And damned if Blu wasn't limping!!!!

It didn't take long to see that he'd lost a shoe on his right front and was favoring it.  Luckily he didn't cut himself also but he must have overreached when running around - I can only assume it was during the fire - and pulled his shoe off.  In human terms he probably got a sprain.  It's his right lower leg where there's no muscle really - it's all bone and tendons - and again luckily he is always turned out with front and rear splint boots (protective boots that cover his cannon bone) so I'm sure that helped with the support of the area until we found the issue.

First aid is to run cold water on it for at least 20 minutes and so he got to graze on the lawn while I held the hose to his lower leg.  We also gave him some Bute - a NSAID anti inflamatory in his grain and he'll get some for a day or so.  He can't be ridden for a few days so my hopes of getting a practice ride in before the show were dashed.  But if all goes well he'll be fine in a couple days.

That was my exciting Saturday!  I hope I don't have another like it EVER.  But I'm grateful that everything turned out the way it did.

Truly grateful to the fire fighters, too!  They ROCK!!!

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