Public pitching in to help evacuated livestock

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Photo credit Keith Johnson, Deseret NewsRIVERTON — In Steve Hunsaker's words, Sunday night was "pretty chaotic."

Hunsaker lives in the Rose Canyon area of Herriman, where the machine gun fire has burned more than 4,300 acres. While trying to evacuate his livestock and pets Sunday night, he knew he had little time. About a half-mile away from his home, he could see another house had already caught fire -- it would end up being one of the three homes destroyed that night by the raging wildfire.

"My fiance and I, we said, 'Oh, here we go. Let's get them out of here,'" Hunsaker said.

Thanks to the help of neighbors, Salt Lake County and even complete strangers, he was able to evacuate six horses, two donkeys, two large dogs and two cats.

Hunsaker was able to load his two young colts, Whiskey and Red, into his trailer. Another person with a horse trailer, who was randomly helping residents evacuate, took Hunsaker's older horses and brought them to safety. Until that moment, Hunsaker had never met the man.

Most of the large livestock animals were brought to the Salt Lake County Equestrian Park near 11400 South and 2000 West in South Jordan. At the height of the evacuation, more than 90 horses and other large animals were being kept there. By Wednesday, there were still 58 horses being housed.

Residents who had to evacuate their livestock from Herriman Wednesday had high praise not only for all the volunteers who pitched in to evacuate livestock on Sunday night, but also to Salt Lake County and the many businesses who donated their facilities, hay, feed, wood chips and other items since Sunday.

But they also noted the past three days had been challenging.

Hunsaker and his fiance, Katie Hollan, had been living in a hotel since Sunday night. Their home was still in the mandatory evacuation area Wednesday morning. Staying in their room with them were their Saint Bernard, Tucker, and their Newfoundland, Tabu.

"We've been staying in a hotel room with 300 pounds of dog," Hunsaker said with a laugh, trying to make the best out of the situation.

Elaine and Chris Mascaro had to evacuate 15 horses from their property. Even though they were allowed to return to their home by Wednesday, their livestock was not. Officials felt comfortable that the family would be able to evacuate in time should an emergency situation flare up, Chris Mascaro said, but didn't feel the livestock could be evacuated as quickly.

"It's hard. It's very hard," she said of having to take care of her horses at the Equestrian Park. "We have to come here three to four times a day for feeding and checking up on them."

Mascaro also had high praise for Salt Lake County and Herriman City, which she said have done all they can to help make the situation more bearable.

"They've been awesome," she said. "Everyone has been really carrying and really good."

Every person approached by the Deseret News on Wednesday had stories of community members and good Samaritans coming together Sunday night and helping to evacuate livestock.

One woman had tied her two burros to the bumper of her Prius and was slowly leading them out of the area. She had gotten about a half-mile when a person with an empty trailer stopped to help her.

Hollan said as she was evacuating the area, she and others stopped to help a woman who was holding the reigns to two horses, one in each hand, and was crying because the horses were spooked by popping noises coming from the fire.

"I could hear her saying, 'Please don't jump on me,'" she said.

Chris Crnick, head of the Utah Department of Agriculture Homeland Security, also had high praise for how well everything had been going. "The public has been absolutely wonderful," he said.

While the vast majority of evacuated animals were horses, including about 19 very expensive registered stallions, there have also been goats, chickens, sheep and at least one steer taken to the shelter.

"It was pretty hectic that first night," Crnick said. "I'm just absolutely pleased with the way everyone stepped up. There was a little confusion at first. It was a very difficult fire that first night. This was a major evacuation event for large animals. It was handled very well."

He said a few animals suffered minor scratches from being evacuated, but there were no major injuries.

He also praised the branding officer at the equestrian park, who had been working tirelessly to ensure everyone's expensive animals were secure and that they were only taken by the proper owner. Anyone who wants to reclaim their animals after the evacuation order is lifted will need the proper paperwork, and even a picture of the animal would help, he said.

On average, a 1,000-pound horse can eat about 25 pounds of hay per day and drink anywhere from eight to 15 gallons of water, Crnick said. He said he was very appreciative of the local businesses that had donated hay and other supplies -- some of it top-of-the-line materials -- to the evacuated residents.


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