A large number of volunteers arrived as soon as they got word to help evacuate panicked horses near the Easy Fire in Simi Valley, which in a few hours had consumed more than 1,000 acres Wednesday morning amid some of the fiercest Santa Ana winds the region had ever seen.
The Easy Fire erupted around 6 a.m., climbing a hillside near homes and surrounding the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in thick smoke.
After an early morning call from staff at Elvenstar, a recreational equestrian facility located on Tierra Rejada Road, calls from one horse lover to another kept snowballing until a large number of volunteers began rolling in like a calvary to help save the horses, who many consider not just gentle giants, but their pets.
The immediate need: helping dozens of horses at Castle Rock Farms, right in the thick of the flames at 15608 Tierra Rejada Rd. in Moorpark.
Julie Conner Daniels said she got the call from Elvenstar, so she called a friend, who called five more friends, and help began rolling in as soon as they heard word of danger.
Daniels said they all began banding together with what she calls a strong network of horse owners to bring as many horse trailers as they could.
Julie said there could be hundreds, maybe even a thousand horses in the area.
The call came early enough into the fire that Daniels says she believes they have enough trailers and volunteers to get all animals to safety.
After a close call in the past for Elvenstar, Julie says she made the call as soon as she heard about the fire.
"Don't wait. Take the horses. As you can see, it's a huge ordeal to move horses," she said.
It's almost like deja-vu for Elvenstar, who faced a nearly identical problem in 2003, the Ventura County Star reported.
Daniels said the big problem volunteers are facing, despite their head-start, is that many of the horses had not seen a trailer in years, so they don't want to get inside and evacuate.
She also said it's not necessarily safe to let horses run free, because horses tend to run to what they consider is safe, such as a barn, even if it is on fire.
"Things prey on horses, they aren't predators, so a horse's instinct is to flee. The big thing horses want to do is just run away," she said. "The big problem is they consider the barns their safe zone -- that's home for them, so they just want to run home, even if it's on fire."
Daniels said a big concern for horses is they can suffer health ailments from the fire just like humans can, from upper respiratory infections to ash damaging their eyes.
The volunteers have placed fly masks on horses, which help to protect their eyes and mouth, she said.
Evacuees could stay at Thousand Oaks Community Center, located at 2525 N. Moorpark Road in Thousand Oaks, California.
As of 4 p.m. PST, Ventura County Fairgrounds was accepting large animals in a limited capacity. Rancho Potrero Equestrian Center was full and not accepting any large animals. LA Pierce College was full and not accepting any more large animals. Earl Warren Showgrounds was also accepting large animals, according to Ventura County emergency services.
See up-to-date information about evacuations, school closures, and more here.