After all the horrible fires in Northern California, like the one in Butte that claimed more than 70,000 acres and destroyed 450 homes, I can’t help but think about the lack of active fire stations here in Contra Costa County and wonder how many of us are prepared for a fire or any natural disaster. Let alone when emergency services cannot respond in a timely manner due to their limited numbers.
Here in the East County there is a large population of farmers, ranchers, horse facilities and other related occupations & lifestyles that include large numbers of animals on peoples’ properties.
For these properties fire is one of the scariest and most likely disasters to be faced with given our dry climate and open acres. In the event of a natural disaster, such as a fire, loading up family, household items and pets is a difficult endeavor, but to couple that with your herd of cattle, a flock of sheep, a coop full of chickens or your stables worth of horses is an added difficulty & as was illustrated in the latest disasters to hit Butte and the Valley, an impossibility for some.
Contra Costa Animals Services has a group of 100+ trained emergency animal sheltering volunteers and are in the developing stages of creating a livestock large animal evacuation component to add to the CART Team program that is already in place. Contra Costa County is on the leading edge of developing such a program. Every County that has no such program in place is urged to follow suit.
Currently there is an additional and successful volunteer organization in place that is unrelated to the County’s existing program, and their focus is particularly to aid the farming community, it is called “Hold Your Horses” (HYH).
Hold Your Horses’ Facebook page was created by Chantel Tieman following the Mount Diablo fire of 2013 that burned through almost 4000 acres of beautiful East County.
Tieman saw an opportunity to use social media as a platform to organize and recruit volunteers for future disasters as she watched people offering up their assistance to evacuate, move, house & assist with animals that were being displaced via Facebook. However due to the multiple social media outlets and lack of direct communication there was confusion, bottle neck traffic and people who had too many offers of assistance and those with none.
During the Mount Diablo fire the team that was to form Hold Your Horses helped relocate and house approximately 30 horses, livestock and some family pets that were displaced during the fire. Born of the fire of 2013 with approximately 300 members in its formative months Tieman keeps meticulous records of all members of Hold Your Horses who are willing to assist in the event of any disaster – their details include – addresses, number of and type of animals that can be housed/boarded at their homes/ranches and if they have any special equipment that could be used for transporting if needed. These records also include the members’ own animal count & needs if they find themselves having to evacuate.
During the recent Butte fire Hold Your Horses (HYH) teamed up with Furry Friends Food Relief Program (FFFRP) and collected donations to distribute to the displaced victims both human & animal.
Tieman says, “ Facebook is a wonderful tool . We posted that we were going up to help evacuate and we didn’t want to arrive with empty trailers.“
With the community’s help and the support of local businesses such as Rafter D who donated $100’s of dollars’ worth of feed, HYH & FFFRP were able to pack 9-trailers full of much needed feed and donations for a multitude of fire victims.
When I asked Tieman why she felt so compelled to help and if she was surprised by the response she responded, “The horse community is very tight, it’s like a family always looking out for each other even if you are miles apart and have never met you just do what you can for others. It’s just the way it is, you never give it a second thought.”
Her description reminds of something out of an old western only its 2015 and these farmers and ranchers still live this way, their hand shake being their word and their respect of another is shown by giving a helping hand without ever asking for anything in return. In a world of hustle and bustle its these farmers and ranchers that show all of us what community is all about. Here they are in midst of disaster but looking out for one another because to them there is no other way
In times of disaster it is truly amazing what man will do for his fellow man. Hold Your Horses & Furry Friends Food Relief Program illustrate just how a common love for animals and their owners can bring communities in different Counties together.
Having these two already established organizations made it easy to reach out to East County for help. Even after the ashes have settled there is still a great need for donations to sustain displaced livestock due to whole fields of grass, barns that stored feed, stables, sheds, shelters and fencing that once contained livestock all having burnt to nothing.
Grass will grow again, shelter and storage will be rebuilt and restocked and fences will be erected once more, but it will not happen overnight.
Emergency preparedness begins at home. Have you got a plan? Have you discussed this plan with all of your family? What if you are not home when disaster strikes? Where will you go? Have you considered your animals? Be prepared.
If you would like to become part of the Hold Your Horses program or donate feed or other items to the Butte Fire Victims please do so via their Facebook page.