Arizona wildfire burns horses as well as pasture and homes

Reuters News
Posted: Jun 22, 2011 4:39 PM
Arizona wildfire burns horses as well as pasture and homes

By Tim Gaynor

PALOMINAS, Arizona (Reuters) - When fire ripped through the mountain pasture in southern Arizona, old roping horse Charlie panicked and charged straight into a sheet of flame.

"When fear takes over, sometimes they react. His reaction was to pull away and run right into the wildfire," said horse rescue worker Theresa Warrell.

The veteran workhorse, who suffered burns to his hoofs, underbelly, muzzle and eyes, is among hundreds of horses and other livestock rescued as the Monument Fire roared down out of the Huachuca Mountains and galloped across tinder-dry ranchland in this high desert valley.

As around 11,000 people were evacuated and scores of homes burned to the ground, volunteers worked around the clock to save horses, donkeys, cats, dogs and even hens exposed to the wind-whipped blaze that drove residents from their homes often with just with minutes to spare.

For animal experts, saving often panicked livestock presented an even greater challenge to rescuers.

"It's more of catastrophe, because it is very difficult to move your livestock at a moment's notice," said Dusty Prentice, a large animal veterinarian tending to Charlie's burns at the Horse'n Around Rescue Ranch and Foundation in Palominas.

"How do you get 20 or 30 horses or even two or three backyard horses that have not been in a trailer for quite some time ... evacuated within ten minutes?" she added.

Among other animals rescued was Rosie, a shaggy haired donkey reported missing as the fire bore down on homes in the wide open pasture, forcing owners to make a hurried retreat to safety.

"I fully expected to find the thing toasted, because everything up there was toasted," said Steve Boice, who co-founded nonprofit Horse'n Around with Warrell.

"But as I came around the corner, there was the donkey drinking out of bird birth. She was not singed, she was fine. It was pretty incredible," he added.

As fire crews bring the blaze that torched 62 homes and burned over 27,000 acres under control, rescuers are concerned that some of more than 100 horses saved from the flames will want new homes, as local residents begin to salvage their lives from the ashes.

Among them is Charlie, a sturdy, tranquil veteran of ranch work who is responding well to treatment with antibiotics and painkillers, Prentice said.

"He's a very quiet easygoing animal," she said as Charlie stood, head bowed, allowing her to bathe the raw burns on his underbelly without flinching.

"I think he would make a good kid's horse."

(Editing by Greg McCune)