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Volunteers at Gibson Ranch in Sunland tend to evacuated horses out of harm's way on Saturday.

Volunteers at Gibson Ranch in Sunland tend to evacuated horses out of harm’s way on Saturday.

photo courtesy of Gibson Ranch

SUNLAND — Dale Gibson had finished his Saturday morning roping July 23 and was trailering back to his ranch through Kagel Canyon when he got a call.

“They asked me if I would come by and get a couple of horses, and I said `yes!’,” said Gibson.

He took them to Gibson Ranch, unloaded, and before he could eat lunch, the phone rang again.

“I told my wife I was going back to Kagel Canyon to haul some more horses,” he says. “After that point, the next time I walked into my house was 11 o’clock that night.”

Since Friday afternoon, the Sand Fire had ravaged hills a bit north toward Santa Clarita, but a shift in wind could have created an approaching firewall their direction, descending from the Angeles National Forest to their doorstep.

As evacuations increased, Gibson Ranch became a major evacuation area, a weekend home to more than 65 horses. The perimeter of his two arenas was filled with tied-up horses, every 12 feet, and the turn-outs were filled, too. The story was the same at the nearby Hansen Dam Equestrian Center.

“We were loading them, bringing them over to the house,” says Gibson. “My wife was on the receiving end, and we’d pull in, hand off horses. I didn’t have any empty corrals. Literally, as people brought horses in, they’d take them over to the arena fence and tie them.”
Gibson’s boarders had seen this emergency before during previous fires like the 2009 Station Fire, and they jumped right in, he said, watering and caring for the horses.

“People really want to do the right thing,” says Gibson. “We’ve done it before. My boarders pulled up, saw what was going on, and knew what to do. Just that little bit of experience helps. Having people stay calm and just want to help is all good.”

Gibson says preparation is the key to an efficient, safe evacuation, especially when emotions run high.

“We had time to do it all day, instead of waiting to move 80 horses in an hour. That way we can take our time, keep our calm,” he says.

At the front of the evacuation, where emotions can run high, Gibson was pleased to see the Los Angeles Police Department’s Mounted Unit on site with their rigs.

“It put a nice calm on everything,” says Gibson, a member of the Los Angeles Equine Advisory Committee representing District 7 — the most horse-dense area of L.A.

“It was cool working with them. We try to stay out of their way unless we’re needed. If I had a message from this experience, because everyone wants to jump out and help, it would be that before you jump out into the street with a rig, please know where you’re going, what you’re doing. If you plug things up, well…you don’t want to become part of the problem. To be part of the solution is really fun.”
Gibson says he waits for calls before he responds with a rig.

“I’m getting real reticent about jumping out there unless somebody calls me and says ‘please come help me!’,” he says. “When that happens, then off I’ll go.”

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