Over the last 30 years, the Santa Barbara Equine Assistance and Evacuation Team (SB Equine Evac) has been working to save animals from danger whenever the county faces natural disasters.
The nonprofit initially started in 1990 after the Painted Cave Fire burned through the Santa Ynez Mountains and ravished local ranches. Horse owners were able to save around 350 horses from perishing in the fire. After this experience, those same horse owners realized there was a need for an organized group that focused on evacuating large animals during natural disasters. Shortly after, the SB Equine Evac organization was born and set their base of operations at the Earl Warren Showgrounds in Santa Barbara. The showgrounds allow the organization to use 600 barn stables when they animals need to be evacuated.
Over the years, the SB Equine Evac has become an important emergency response group, helping to evacuate animals in almost every major natural disaster that has hit Santa Barbara County since the Painted Cave Fire.
“We work very closely with the Santa Barbara animal services, they have a hotline they activate when we have a fire that directly routes to us,” said Carpinteria resident Ronda Hathaway, vice president of the Santa Barbara Equine Assistance and Evacuation Team. “We’re pretty well prepared to respond to any emergency.”
Their biggest moment of aid came during the Thomas Fires back in 2017, when they evacuated 1,300 animals out of the fiery mountains and housed them at the Earl Warren Showgrounds.
“The Thomas Fires were huge. When the fire was in Ventura County, we were a mutual aid group. And as the fires kept moving and kept encroaching, we got involved with the evacuation of horses off of Shepard Mesa, and then we helped with the evacuation at the polo grounds. We also helped evacuate some animals from the zoo because of the air quality,” said Hathaway. “We were out there for 28 days, 24/7.”
Since the Thomas Fires, the SB Equine Evac has been actively helping the community—helping during the Woolsey Fire, Maria Fire and more. Currently, SB Equine Evac has started a new major project to renovate the Earl Warren Showgrounds. In early 2020, SB Equine Evac raised over $500,000 in donations and began renovations at the showgrounds. So far, they’ve brought improvement to the Samuel E. Kramer Arena, Mountain View Arena and El Camino Arena. They plan to continue renovations throughout 2021. To learn more, volunteer or donate, visit sbequineevac.org.