Where There is HEET 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 HEET.

“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 HEET members helped evacuate that week,” explained Susan McElhinney, the current President of HEET (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.


Are you prepared to leave your animals with a pet sitter? Help communicate all the vital care instructions with a Horse and Pet Care Communication Checklist.


HEET Helps Evacuate Animals

Helping people evacuate animals and coordinating temporary housing is one of the primary services of HEET of San Luis Obispo. Susan has been part of HEET 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 HEE. “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. What if you are not home a fire breaks out? Be sure your horse and pet sitter has a written plan.

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. We 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.

HEET is Here to Help You

HEET is not only assists with evacuations, they also show up to help with 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

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

Fire photos by Leah Jantzen


Are you prepared to leave your animals in the care of a pet sitter? The Horse and Pet Care Communication Checklist enables you to gather all the vital information you need to communicate all the elements of all your animals’ care to your pet sitter.  What if you suddenly had to leave town? Would you be ready for someone to quickly step in and take care of your animals? What if something happened to your horse or pet while you were away? Would your pet sitter know your wishes? This checklist will help you prepare your pet sitter to care for your animals the way you do. Get your Horse and Pet Care Free Checklist here >.

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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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