Showjumpers evacuate yard as wildfires close in

  • A well-known Californian showjumping yard has been forced to evacuate all 31 of its horses as raging wildfires close in.

    Diamond Mountain Stables in the foothills of the Napa valley has been run by World Cup rider Macella O’Neill and her partner Charlie White since 1983.

    It was caught up in the mandatory evacuation of the whole Calistoga area at the start of the week, as fires engulfed more than 170,000 acres, fanned by 50mph winds.

    The yard’s assistant trainer Haley Schwab said they started the evacuation to Napa on Monday evening (9 October).

    “[Initially] we left a few horses still at home — only as many as we could get out in one trip if needed — and then Tuesday night we left the property with all the people and animals as the winds were predicted to be quite bad and multiple fires burned all around us,” she said.

    “We evacuated to various locations in Napa but on Wednesday morning we were told we should leave Napa as the fires continued to burn and winds were unpredictable.

    “It was at this point that Macella and Charlie and a couple others went back to Calistoga to pack like we were never coming back.”

    Marcella and Haley then “hit the phones” to recruit helpers to move horses and equipment a 10-hour drive to Rancho Polo in the Coachella Valley, where they usually spend some of the winter circuit.

    “So many people were willing to help, in a matter of hours all our horses and people were on the road headed to safety,” Haley said. “We had two six-horse lorries, one four-horse and one three-horse to get the initial load down here. We’re just really grateful to the people who answered the call.”

    Along with the Diamond Mountain horses, many others were also forced to leave the initial evacuation point in Napa.

    “We evacuated twice and we obviously would have never wanted to do that,” Haley said. “Napa was an evacuation centre for a lot of people, one of the places where we had 11 horses (Valley Brook Equestrian Center) was housing more than 150 horses, all of which were evacuated out of there in a matter of four hours thanks to the work of so many people.”

    She added that the behaviour of the horses had been “really incredible” throughout the ordeal.

    “It was such a traumatic situation to evacuate, be at evacuation sites with so many unknown horses as well as other animals including alpacas, mules, donkeys and goats.

    “Everyone loaded and hauled well. We had a vet on call when we arrived late on Wednesday night with the horses, but so far we’ve been incredibly lucky, all the horses are in excellent condition. We are really just waiting on pins and needles to see how Diamond Mountain fares in the fire,” she said.

    So far, it is believed the abandoned yard has “escaped the grasp” of the blaze. While there have been previous wildfires in the region, they have never put the property in jeopardy before.

    “This is the first time the property has been vacant since 1963 when Macella’s parents moved in,” said Haley. “During the valley fire of 2015 we took in a ton of evacuated animals from Lake County and were a part of the evacuation and rebuilding efforts for that fire, but we have been fortunate to not have experienced the fear of fleeing from a fire before.

    “It continues to threaten Calistoga so we can only hope the winds die down so the firefighters can get a better handle on it. All day driving south yesterday we passed fire trucks and units from all over the state heading north to help the cause – we’re lucky to have so many dedicated first responders working on such a horrific event.”

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