By Raiza Giorgi

Horses whinnied and poked their heads out of stalls at Earl Warren Showgrounds as new evacuees showed up from the Thomas Fire.

Just two days after the fire began, almost 200 horses had been brought to the showgrounds by their owners or picked up by members of the Santa Barbara Equine Evacuation and Assistance Team.

“We’ve had more than 80 calls from people, either wanting to know if we were able to help take their horse from the property … or people reaching out to see how they can help us. We are incredibly fortunate that we can use Earl Warren as our base camp as this is the only place that can hold large quantities of large animals around here,” said Ronda Hathaway, vice president of SB Equine Evac.

The fire started just before 7 p.m. Dec. 4 in the 1000 block of Ojai Road along Highway 150 in Ventura County in the vicinity of Thomas Aquinas College and Steckel Park.

The nonprofit organization was started by her father Don Hathaway and Cathy O’Connor when the Painted Cave Fire scorched the mountains above Santa Barbara in 1990, Hathaway said.

“We are so grateful to all our volunteers that come to help in each emergency situation such as this, and we respond by either sending our trailers or equipment, sheltering animals in need and taking that worry off the owner as they deal with their own situations,” Hathaway said.

SB Equine Evac helps all Santa Barbara County emergency response agencies and animal owners in the evacuation, temporary care and sheltering of large animals in time of fire, flood, earthquake and other disasters or accidents.

Board president Cathy O’Connor helped start the nonprofit Santa Barbara Equine Evacuation and Assistance Team after the Painted Cave Fire in 1990.

Volunteers are trained and registered Disaster Service Workers with the Office of Emergency Services in California. SB Equine Evac also provides education and demonstrations for many local public events, agencies and organizations.

“We go to every major incident all around the county, including the Santa Ynez Valley. We’ve had some volunteers from the valley come down and ask how to help,” O’Connor said.

As she spoke to the Star at Earl Warren, Hathaway was interrupted several times by people calling to know if they were set up to take animals and if assistance was available.

People were also showing up with their trailers, either wanting to place their livestock or telling the volunteer coordinators they were ready and willing to help those in need.

Anyone who wants to help their efforts can donate to the nonprofit, call their hotline at 805-892-4484, email them at or log onto their website at