When news of the fast-moving Alisal fire and subsequent evacuation orders spread along the Gaviota Coast on Oct. 11, Grace Reilly immediately wondered how she would be able to evacuate close to 50 horses from a Refugio Canyon ranch.

As she and other ranchers at Circle Bar B Guest Ranch began rapidly loading their trailers with horses, help came in the form of the volunteer-run Santa Barbara Equine Assistance and Evacuation Team, whose members brought additional trailers to the scene.

By that evening, 27 of Reilly's horses had been safely moved to the Earl Warren Showgrounds in Santa Barbara, and the rest had been moved to the base of Refugio Canyon.

"All of a sudden, it was a carousel of horse trailers. They expedited the whole evacuation process," Reilly, 23, said of the evacuation team. "There were around six trailers, and some made multiple trips."

The team was formed for this exact situation, spurred by the 1990 Painted Cave fire in which a group of horses were unable to be evacuated and perished. Now, the team of volunteers can be activated by Santa Barbara County Animal Services to assist with moving large animals during emergencies.

Tammy Thompson, treasurer for the equine evacuation team, said the Earl Warren Showgrounds was hosting 137 evacuated horses, sheep, goats and donkeys by Oct. 13, with some coming and going as owners found new locations to house them.

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Tammy Thompson of Santa Barbara Equine Assistance and Evacuation Team bottle-feeds a lamb evacuated to the Earl Warren Showgrounds in Santa Barbara during the Alisal fire. Over 130 livestock, including sheep, donkeys, goats and horses, were being sheltered at the showgrounds on Oct. 13.

While some owners stay on the grounds to be near their animals, the majority of the creatures at the showgrounds are left to the care of the equine evacuation team, who ensure they have water and food and set up the stalls for them.

"They're here until it's safe for them to go home," Thompson said. "It just depends on what the fire is doing and what the evacuation orders are."

For Reilly and the Circle Bar B horses, the showgrounds will be their home indefinitely until it's safe to return to the ranch, which is expected to have sustained some damage from the fire.

"Tensions are high, not between people, but because it's a stressful situation, and the horses can sense it," she said. 

Along with the equine evacuation team, county Animal Services also coordinated response efforts by sending trailers to areas under the evacuation order and taking in smaller animals.

The Goleta shelter is currently holding dogs, chickens and hens, along with a cat and cockatiel, that were dropped off by their owners who were unable to take them along as they evacuated, according to county Animal Services spokeswoman Jessica Wiebe.

Animal Services staff members also have been taking calls for service to Refugio Road, where residents sheltering in place have lost water and power or are in need of feed for their animals.

"We have some ongoing calls, where we check in on them daily and get them supplies," she said, describing one resident staying with their turkeys, chickens and piglets in Refugio Canyon who staff were unable to reach earlier in the week.

Wiebe advised residents to make an evacuation plan and to call the county Animal Services hotline at 805-681-4332 for animal evacuation assistance.

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