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Huge search effort scaled back after no sign of missing firefighter

The search for a missing off-duty Arcadia firefighter who vanished in the Los Padres National Forest more than a week ago has been significantly scaled back to only a “handful” of volunteers, the Ventura County Sheriff’s Office announced Sunday.

At a somber news conference, Ventura County Sheriff Geoff Dean said Sunday that after nearly 100 search and rescue workers scoured more than 50 square miles of rugged back country north of Fillmore, no sign of Mike Herdman had been found, and so authorities had “reached a point where we have to make a decision.”



An earlier version of this post incorrectly stated that the dog was found at the campsite. It was found near the trail head.


Officials, he added, had scaled back the search effort to a skeleton crew Sunday night with a “handful” of volunteers continuing the effort in the coming days.

Herdman, 36, vanished June 13 during a four-day hike with a fellow firefighter. When his dog, Duke, ran off that night, Herdman gave chase barefoot in only shorts and a T-shirt.

“Sadly, at some point you have to make a decision about what the odds are – what’s the likelihood with all the resources we have out there that we might be successful,” Dean said.

Duke was spotted several times throughout the week but wasn’t caught until Sunday, when a hiker found him at a trail head. Authorities described the dog as dehydrated and "exhausted."

Dean said it was extremely “unlikely” the dog could help find Herdman since it was found 14 miles from where it had first been spotted wandering in the wilderness.

Herdman, a husband and father, was familiar with the trail and taking fellow Arcadia paramedic Tyler Byars on his first camping trip there. They were half-way into their four-day trip when Herdman disappeared.

Dean said Byars tried in vain to find Herdman through the night and the next day. He eventually tried to find his own way out and got lost. A pair of fishermen found Byars “dehydrated, disheveled and disoriented” and guided him back to the beginning of the trail head at Tar Creek, where Byars and Herdman’s trip began.

After making it back to his car, Byars drove to the sheriff’s station in Fillmore and reported his friend missing the night of June 15. A couple of deputies began searching that night and a full-scale search launched the next morning.

Dean said he could not overstate how difficult and dangerous the back country is where Herdman disappeared. Rescuers have been treated for heat exhaustion and injuries from rock slides.

Fillmore Fire Department Asst. Chief Bill Herrera was bitten by a rattle snake and is being treated in an intensive care unit after needing 52 vials of anti-venom to survive.

Mountain lions and bears scour the terrain, which is rife with thousand-pound boulders, hidden crevices and chest-high brush. Crews searched 20 miles along Sespe Creek and 50 square miles around it, Dean said.

The effort included about half a dozen sheriff’s departments, the Department of Homeland Security and two unmanned drones. In total, crew members have spent more than 4,600 hours searching for Herdman, Dean said.

“Our searchers have gone boulder-to-boulder, day after day,” he said.

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