Where There is H.E.E.T. There is Fire – Do You Have an Emergency Plan?

Plumes of smoke billowed all week, and nights were aglow with orange flames, as the Cuesta Grade fire burned its way towards the the town of Santa Margarita in 2015. Homes and lives were at risk, and not just human lives, but those of animals caught in the path of the wildfire. This is a time when “all hands on deck” becomes more than just a catch phrase…this is a time for H.E.E.T.

“The town of Santa Margarita does not have a ton of large animals, but it does have one large barn with 20 horses that one of our H.E.E.T. members helped evacuate that week,” explained Susan McElhinney, the current President of H.E.E.T. (Horse Emergency Evacuation Team) of SLO County. The town of Santa Margarita was placed on mandatory evacuation status in the early part of the week (Monday August 17), as it sat in the path of the Cuesta Grade fire. Fortunately the fire crew saved the town and within a day changed the situation from mandatory evacuation to stand by.

H.E.E.T. Helps Evacuate Animals

Helping people evacuate animals and coordinating temporary housing is one of the primary services of H.E.E.T. of San Luis Obispo. Susan has been part of H.E.E.T. since its inception in 2003. We have been ushered into fire season here on the Central Coast. Warm, dry weather increases the chance of wild fires, as shown by the many fires blazing across the west right now. So the question is not IF but WHEN a wild fire breaks out where you live or board your animals; will you be prepared? Do you have a plan for your family and your animals? Cal Fire has a great link on their website to get your plan into action.

Develop an Evacuation Plan for Your Horses

Part of that plan should include pre-registering your large animals with H.E.E.T. “Sometimes owners are out of town, so they need someone to go move their animals in case of a wild fire. We do that,” explained Susan who continued, “We have a registration process so that we know what animals are at a property and where each animal is housed, the particulars of the property and the unique needs or personalities of each animal.

Evacuation Info Stored in Database

We keep all this information in an electronic database which is accessible anywhere internet is active.” Pre-registering your animals is the best way to ensure that an emergency evacuation can be done as efficiently and timely as possible. “We come out and evaluate your property and check for the 100 yard clearance, the access to water, note the best way in, and write down the specific needs and location of each animal. That way we know what we are heading into beforehand. If we discover that a horse is a difficult loader we suggest training to be sure its life could be saved if evacuation becomes necessary,” said Susan.

Become a Horse Evacuation Home

Where do the evacuated horses go? They go to evacuation homes. This is also something Susan encourages people to do ahead of time. Registering your home or ranch as a safe home can really make a difference in an emergency.

“There were a number of community members who offered to take in animals through our Facebook page in response to the recent evacuation order for Santa Margarita town site. This was very helpful,” mentioned Susan.

Knowing ahead of time where those homes are really streamlines the process. Evacuations are usually short term and are free of charge to owners. Feed is sometimes donated by local feed stores, or sometimes the host home feeds, but owners are asked to supply the food and are expected to cover the cost of feed if it comes to that. The Santa Margarita evacuation was only for a day. However, people must first see if they have intact fences, water and electricity before returning home with their animals.

H.E.E.T. is Here to Help You

H.E.E.T. is not only involved in evacuations they also show up when there are trailer accidents and when horses are loose on the highway. “We rely heavily on Estero Radio Club which helps us operate our ham radios. This is especially needed where there is no cell phone service, we can get a phone call to anyone through the radio club.”

Heet trailer

H.E.E.T. is 100% volunteer operated. They do have a staging trailer equipped with First Aid supplies and other vital items. H.E.E.T. gathers funds for this equipment. Paypal link can be found on the H.E.E.T Website and on Facebook. Donations are always accepted at anytime via Paypal on the website.

Fire photos by Leah Jantzen

There are so many ways to horse around in stunning SLO County. To keep this info at your fingertips we have developed a FREE Hot Sheet that will direct you to stories which tell you where you can trail ride, stay with your horse, show and taste. We’ll continue to add horsing around stories to our website. You can stay up-to-date by becoming a SLO Horse News herd member. Get your Horsing Around in SLO County Hot Sheet here >.


Former Pony Clubber, Eventer and Dressage rider who balanced training and showing with getting a college degree (from Cal Poly SLO), becoming a wife and raising a family.

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