Three searchers hurt in hunt for firefighter missing in forest

Three people have been injured looking for an off-duty Arcadia firefighter who disappeared last week when his dog ran away from a campsite deep in Los Padres National Forest, authorities said Friday.

A search and rescue worker who was bitten by a rattlesnake Thursday was airlifted out of the forest and is now being treated in an intensive care unit, said Ventura County Sheriff’s Department Sgt. Eric Buschow.

Another worker injured a leg and had to be airlifted out earlier in the week, and a third person suffered heat exhaustion.

The injuries were a testament to how hazardous the conditions are in the rugged terrain.

“You see how vast the mountains out here are -- crews are not just hiking through, they’re literally going rock to rock, tree to tree because they’re actually searching for a person,” Buschow said. “It’s a painstaking, tedious task.”


Authorities said Mike Herdman disappeared June 13 after he chased after his dog, Duke, in a remote area of the forest, where search efforts have been hampered by steep canyons, boulder-strewn terrain and forested mountains.

On Thursday, members of a search and rescue team retrieved Duke and were waiting for a helicopter to hoist the pet from the scene, authorities said.

But as the helicopter descended into the area, Duke broke free and ran away. He was apparently frightened by the copter.

“We had him and we lost him,” Buschow said.

Team members played harmonicas to attract Duke as they worked their way across the Sespe Wilderness area northwest of Sulphur Peak. Herdman’s daughter used to play the harmonica to get the dog’s attention, Buschow said.

Herdman had set up camp in the area with a friend when Duke took off. Authorities said it took the friend two days to hike out of the area. The Sheriff’s Department was alerted on Sunday and began searching at daybreak Monday.

Several dozen rescuers took part in the search mission Thursday. Ten members stayed in the area Thursday night to continue searching in the darkness, authorities said.

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