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arguing with a fire pilot is a lot like wrestling with a pig in the mud:  after a while you begin to think the pig likes it.

A Horse Tale


In late September of 2009, Lead Bravo 5 was dispatched to the Guiberson Fire -- and all was normal as could be for a fire in Ventura County, California. The fire was fast-paced and heading toward homes.

We were given the assignment to secure the left heel and start heading up the left flank across some powerlines and into some fields of brush. While scouting the area for other powerlines and hazards, though, I happened to see four horses on top of a hill -- with fire below them. I started to circle the horses to see if they were going to start to head out. After several orbits, though, I realized that they were disoriented and were going to be trapped if they didnít start to move sidehill real soon.

Horses trapped on cliff on the Buiberson Fire

I made several low passes to their outside, trying to move them in what I could see from the air was the safe direction. They moved some -- but it was too late. They were now completely surrounded by fire.

The horses had worked themselves over to a cliff that was very steep ... and they just stood there, waiting for the flames that were headed their way. As we made each orbit over the fire, though, I was thinking to myself, "I've seen horses go over something close to that before -- something that steep ... "

Come on, you can do it!

Horses trapped on cliff on the Buiberson Fire
The flames were soon within 10 feet of the horses -- and I knew they were getting burnt.

I pulled into a steep dive with the lead plane, and I made one more attempt to push them off the cliff where they'd been huddled. They did it. They went!

There was a lot of dust flying and horses tumbling down that hill. But when the dust settled, we could see all four of them just 30 or 40 feet from the top of the ridge.

But it wasnít over. Now the fire was below them on the cliff -- and there was grass and brush near them -- fuels that could fire up and come back after them ... I knew we were going to have fire on the horses again soon.

My first tanker came in, and it was T-76 piloted by Ted Mundell, and I told Ted that our first drop was going to be on some horses trapped on a cliff. Just as we'd understood this for the afternoon in Bravo 5, Ted "got it" and agreed about the horses -- we had someone there we needed to save.

We almost felt like we had firefighters trapped -- and by God we were going to get them out!

The smoke was rolling in pretty hard and Ted was right behind us for the lead. We could tell we had to get the drop in there right away. On final I popped some smoke to mark the drop -- and away it went.

It missed.

Ted said he could get the next one in there, but "I need to get right on your ass." Okay, Ted, I said, letís go -- and as I flew onto the target and looked back at Ted, he was so close I could see his face clear as a bell in his cockpit. I popped my smoke again and the retardant was out.

"DIRECT hit, Ted!" I yelled over the radio. I looked back to see a cloud of retardant fall on the horses and the grass on fire -- which was now all around them!

I started to get more tankers in for other drops, but we kept checking on our horse buddies all day. Even the next shift that was going to relieve us had orders from us to keep an eye on them. Well, the next day as we headed back to the fire, the first thing we did was check out the area where the horses had been. We expected to see them gone and off into the black. But nope, there they were, hung up over the top on the side of the cliff. We could see that they had walked out on both sides to a point where they couldnít go any farther. They had stayed there all night. No water -- and Iím sure, burnt. Horses trapped on cliff on the Buiberson Fire

We asked the air attack to contact the ICP and see if any animal rescue folks were in the camp. We gave them the lat and long of the horses' location ... but partway through the day's shift we saw what looked like a rancher on a four-wheeler overlooking the cliff.

"Thank goodness," we said -- as we knew he might get the horses out ... or at least talk to someone who could do it. We left the area and got to work at dropping tankers -- and we went back there after about an hour. We could see the rancher had gone over the edge of the ridge and had somehow dug a trail in the cliff for the horses to finally walk out.

In the photos here, you will see only three horses.

We donít know where the fourth one went -- or whether that one made it out.

Mike Lynn, Bravo 5
September 2009

Photos © Joel Lane, right seat Bravo 5. All rights reserved.