Trailering to safety, offering support

Photo by Tony Kukulich

John and Melina Ray, left, helped shelter some of the horses displaced by the Marsh Creek fire, including Bella, above. Owner Jessica March and her son Patrick, right, along with the help of local residents, helped evacuate horses and secure the area.

Wildfires often define late summer in California.

This August, the fires have gotten a little too close for comfort, especially for those living in the vicinity of Deer Valley Road and Marsh Creek. When lightning strikes on Sunday, Aug. 16, sparked multiple fires in the foothills surrounding Brentwood, many residents were evacuated, but not all of them left on two legs.

Jessica March stables her horse, Bella, at Rancho El Pinto on Marsh Creek Road. When she received an evacuation notice at 9 p.m. from East Contra Costa Fire Protection District for that area, she grabbed a bridle and drove straight to the fire zone.

“I grabbed a bridle, because I didn’t know how bad it was,” March said. “I didn’t know if I would have to ride (Bella) out. I called my son, Patrick, and I told him we had to go evacuate my horse, and he immediately just started making phone calls and had some friends show up with horse trailers.”

March said she was stopped once by Contra Costa County Sheriff’s deputies on her way to the stable, but they allowed her through once she explained she was there to evacuate her animal. She passed flaming hillsides on her way to the barn. Upon arrival, she found several other horse owners were in the process of hooking up trailers and loading horses.

March formed a plan with one of the barn’s trainers, Hannah, and the two women between them were able to evacuate Bella, along with nine other horses. March’s son Patrick helped make arrangements for transportation and temporary housing for the horses.

“I called everyone I knew who did have a trailer that was local and made sure to get as many helping hands out there as possible,” Patrick said. “I sent them all to Rancho El Pinto because at that point in time, I knew that’s where most of the fires were going with the highest amount of animals.”

Patrick said he loaded as many horses as he could, handing them off to anyone with a trailer and a place to bring them. His goal was to ensure a constant flow of horses going into trailers and out of danger.

March and her son both described the scene at Rancho El Pinto as stressful, but noted they did their best to maintain calm. March said at one moment, around midnight, lightning struck the ridge above the barn, igniting the brush into flames.

“The fire department happened to have one of the fire strike teams on the ridge behind Rancho El Pinto,” she said. “We saw the lightning hit, and then the strike team was there in two or three minutes, putting it out. So kudos to them; it was definitely a stressful situation.”

March and Patrick worked until three o’clock the next morning, loading horses, carrying water and finding temporary homes for all the animals. They, and everyone else working that night to help keep their community safe, are part of an inspiring story of helping hands in East County.

“These great folks went above and beyond for strangers,” said Brentwood resident Jenny Franklin. “I for one was so touched by the kindness and generosity these folks showed in such a bad time, it truly gave me hope for our future.”