Advertisement
Share

Desperate effort to save a horse during Sand fire: ‘She’s going to lay there and burn to death? I can’t bear that.’

A helicopter makes a water drop on the Sand fire along Placerita Canyon Road near Santa Clarita on Sunday night.
(Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)

Chris Pease loved the rustic home nestled in the canyon that she and her husband shared with assorted animals, including goats, chickens and their horse Abby.

But during a trip to Michigan, her husband, Drew, decided to travel to Kentucky to scout out a possible new home.

While he was away, the Sand fire swept through the Santa Clarita Valley, scorching more than 30,000 acres, forcing evacuations from at least 10,000 homes and destroying at least 18 structures. Among them was the Pease home of 17 years, which sat on 13 acres on Oak Springs Canyon Road.

“I’m coming back and we’re going to liquidate,” Drew Pease, 71, told his wife before the fire.

Advertisement

“I guess God did it for us,” Chris, 66, said late Sunday.

She said she was at work Friday when she got a text from a friend about a fire on Sand Canyon and Soledad. When she got home, there were flames coming over the hill behind her property. But soon, the wind shifted and the fire seemed to be going away. She woke to a Saturday with much smoke but no flames she could see.

Pease, a medical billing employee, began putting family photos and important papers in the trunk of her car, just in case. Her husband, a retired mechanic, told her not to panic. They had dealt with a fire years before that started on Placerita Canyon.

“We’ve been through this before,” Drew Pease told her over the phone.

“But I haven’t been through it alone,” she said during an interview. “It was very different this time.”

When she heard about mandatory evacuations Saturday, Chris packed her three pygmy goats into a carrier. A friend came and helped her hook up the horse trailer, but she was unable to get her horse, Abby, inside, no matter how hard she tried.

The fire approached on three sides.

“The flames were leaping up in some areas 50 feet in the air, 100 feet in the air,” Chris Pease said. “It was coming running down the hill — just a big, red glow, almost like lava. It looked like lava.”

She said she and her husband had done a lot of clearing on the property, with help from a woman who lives in a mobile home on the property, but “there was nothing stopping it.”

“Stop packing, stop with the horse, let her go,” a fireman told her, looking at the hill behind her. “You have to get out right now. It is almost too late. We’ll do the best we can.”

Pease said she looked at the firefighter’s face and knew her home couldn’t be saved.

A day later, she ran through the things she had to leave behind: China from her mother, crystal from her grandmother, collectibles from her brother who passed away, her extensive doll collection and collector plates.

“It’s all gone,” she said. “Everything’s gone. I keep thinking, ‘I have to go back and get ...’ and then I remember I don’t have anywhere to go back to. I have basically the clothes on my back.”

She also left behind her birds, her goats — and Abby.

Animal rescue staff tried desperately to get Abby on her feet, even trying to lift her with a tractor, Pease said. The veterinarian said she didn’t have broken bones, her breathing was OK and she was not burned. But the horse did not want to get up. Over the phone, the veterinarian told Pease he could give Abby fluids and see if he could try and get her up.

“What if you can’t get her up,” Pease asked. “She’s going to lay there and burn to death? I can’t bear that.”

She said what followed was “the hardest decision I had to make, because I loved her so much and she was such a sweetheart.”

She decided to have Abby put down.

On Monday morning, firefighters used water and foam to put out spot fires on the wreck that used to be the Peases’ home. A charred oven was one of the few objects inside that could still be made out. Everything else was a burned, twisted heap. Outside the margins of the gutted home sat burned cars that Drew had worked on.

The hill behind the home was scorched and blackened. Helicopters passed overhead as the firefighters worked, a slight breeze alleviating some of the heat but blowing ash around in the air.

A neighbor, John Myers, said his family has lived in the area since 1939. He evacuated Saturday afternoon at about 3 p.m. He ended up returning Saturday night because his father decided to stay and refused to evacuate.

“In 1958 there was a fire and him and my grandfather saved the house with regular garden hoses,” Myers said.

His mother had already left, and he said he didn’t want to leave her alone so he decided to leave.

They waited in a Vons parking lot for about 4½ hours before returning to their home.

When Myers returned home, there were six or seven fire engines. His father was sitting in the living room as the firefighters worked.

As far as he knew, the Peases’ home was the only one that burned in that area.

“If they need help, whatever they need,” Myers said, “people will band together and help.”

brittny.mejia@latimes.com

@Brittny_Mejia

ALSO

How overtime has made L.A.'s port pilots the city’s best paid employees, averaging $450,000 a year

Vacation payout for county supervisor becomes issue in fight over ouster of attorney

A father’s tough love mixed with a son’s talent puts boxer Carlos Balderas in the Olympics


Advertisement