Staff from several county and city agencies stressed the importance of planning ahead for large animal evacuations — rather than relying solely on agency resources and shelters — to local residents on April 21.
Representatives from San Diego Animal Services, San Diego Humane Society, Encinitas Fire Department and San Diego County Sheriff's Department fielded questions from the community and provided updates for future plans at the forum held at the Olivenhain Meeting Hall..
Encinitas Deputy Mayor Joe Mosca said the panel was especially important following last year's destructive Lilac Fire, which forced thousands to flee and left 157 structures destroyed and another 64 damaged, according to The San Diego Union-Tribune.
During that fire, the Del Mar Fairgrounds was opened to shelter more than 800 horses, but officials encouraged residents to have other options for the future.
The Department of Animal Services only opens designated shelters, like the fairgrounds, during mandatory evacuations, said Laura Ward, deputy director of the county department. In voluntary situations, people should develop a list of destinations where animals are allowed. Owners are responsible for evacuating themselves and their pets.
Some residents at the forum expressed concerns regarding the limits on places to go in the event of an emergency.
"Del Mar is the place to go," one woman pleaded. "It's safe. We need [the department's] help to make this as easy as possible. How can we get Del Mar to open when we have voluntary evacuations? That's a conundrum, so help us."
Ward said fairgrounds officials are currently considering allowing people in on an individual basis and charging daily rates in the event of an emergency, but the event center’s year-round, demanding schedule makes it hard to solidify a plan.
"Their problem is at any given time they have events there," she said. "It's a matter of can we help these people or can we not help these people?"
Another woman suggested there should be a list of horse properties available to help in emergencies in certain areas, as well as a list of people who own horse trailers and can be called upon.
Ward said that list has to be part of a personal evacuation plan, and people cannot solely rely on the fairgrounds during voluntary evacuations. She stressed the importance of having a plan and communicating that plan with every member of the household, as well as collaborating with neighbors.
"Del Mar is not part of your plan," Ward said. "Private ranches, families and friends are your plan. Del Mar has to be able to accommodate people who have to get out now. Tying up resources in a voluntary evacuation is a problem if there's a mandatory evacuation. Disaster preparedness starts with you, whether it's a small animal or large animal."
Laurel Monreal of the San Diego Humane Society — which is currently in negotiations to take over animal services for incorporated areas of the county beginning July 1 — urged horse-owners to prepare emergency kits with harnesses, hay buckets and pencil pouches with the horse's photo name, diet and veterinarian information.
Anita Pupping, of the Encinitas Fire Department, added residents should be aware of all evacuation routes ahead of an emergency. She said the fire department has remote access to some gates in the area, like at the Double LL Ranch. An emergency evacuation gate from Olivenhain into Carlsbad is located at Double LL Ranch Road and Lone Jack Road.
In the event of a wildfire, the fire department will post signage for evacuation routes out of Olivenhain, Pupping said.
Local residents should also register their mobile phones with AlertSanDiego, the regional reverse 911 mass notification system, by visiting www.readysandiego.org, Pupping recommended. Additionally, up-to-date information will be provided on KOGO Am 600 radio and the county’s 211 information line.
In some cases, large ranches should stay in place instead of evacuating or have options other than department resources, Ward said. She added the department does not have enough resources for a large number of horses and currently has one officer for every 85,000 people.
The Encinitas Fire Department also has six fire engines for the entire city, of which Olivenhain houses about 10 percent of the population, according to Fire Chief Mike Stein.
Nancy Reid, a resident of the Elfin Forest, which is serviced by the Rancho Santa Fe Fire District, said her community has put together a "block captain" system in which volunteers in each neighborhood have a list of neighbors, animals and local resources.
She said such a system can be helpful to evacuate an emergency situation quickly.
"It will save lives and it will get you out early," Reid said. "Opening up Del Mar will only be a problem if you can't get out."