After taking in 14 new rescued equines, the organizers at Horse & Heart Ranch ready themselves for evacuation from the CZU Lightning Complex fire. (Photo courtesy of Tricia Mogen)

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As fires rage across the Santa Cruz mountains, it took 11 runs within a two-day period to rescue 14 horses, and a handful more, to other barns. While battling the heat and smoke, a team of four from the Horse & Heart Ranch in Soquel patiently ushered frightened and untrained horses into a trailer that would take the animals to safety. In a span of 48 hours, the ranch’s herd of 10 grew to 24.

“This is far beyond anything we could have imagined and the catastrophic damage is beyond anything we have ever experienced,” said Lori Halliday, executive director of Horse & Heart.

After living in California for 20 years and managing equine rescues from other fires across the state, Halliday says the evacuations from the CZU Lightning Complex fire (spanning across San Mateo and Santa Cruz Counties) occurred too late, offering families and their horses very little time to escape. 

“Some [people] have lost their own homes and some don’t have a place to sleep and therefore can’t think about food and water for their horses,” said Halliday.

With the blaze closeby and another storm possibly headed her way, Halliday is putting in place several evacuation plans while gathering precious belongings from her own home. 

“A lot of the horses that we have evacuated are from the other side Highway 17 and we are praying that the fire doesn’t hop over the highway towards us,” she said.

The National Weather Service has issued a Red Flag warning starting on Sunday morning through Monday evening for dry lightning and gusty erratic outflow of winds across the Bay Area.

A nearby complex lays in ashes from the devastating CZU Lightning Complex fire that continues to rage across both San Mateo and Santa Cruz Counties. (Photo courtesy of Aaron Hinde)

Since the ranch is located on a mountaintop, one plan includes escaping through a backgate and pairing up one individual per horse before walking down the mountain to places expecting to receive the animals. However, fear combined with the reality of executing said plan means preparing for the worst-case scenario.

“What if the places that are supposed to receive us are also on fire?” questioned Halliday. “Half the county has already burned down.”

The ranch, which offers private classes, retreats and camps on horse training, has had to cancel all programs due to the fires, putting a financial strain on the owners. Still, Halliday plans to exhaust all of the ranch’s resources to address the current situation, though she is unsure what the future holds. 

“The truth is we have no idea how long these horses will be here,” said Halliday. “The families will need time to rebuild.”

Family and friends have taken to social media to raise awareness and funds in order for the ranch to continue care of the current herd and any additional rescues. 

“The good news is that the horses are getting along very well,” she said. “I’m grateful for the safety that we have right now.”