Great sadness mixed with the determination to pick up the pieces and move forward are some of the emotions the Padilla family is feeling today.
They are among the many families affected by the Creek Fire that at press time has destroyed more than thirty structures and burned 11,000 acres.
Virginia Padilla knows they’ve lost thirty of the sixty horses they had at their “Rancho Padilla,” located in Little Tujunga. The news that not all perished was good news amid the painful chaos they’ve faced this week.
When they heard the news of the fire on Monday, they kept an ear to the ground and an eye on the gusting winds. They were cautiously optimistic.
“At first we thought everything was going to be OK because everything had burned a lot before,” Padilla said in reference to the other fires that burned vegetation in the area earlier this year.
But that all changed for them around 4 a.m. on Tuesday.
“My dad gets up around that time to go to work and he saw through the window that the flames were already there. He started waking everybody up, yelling that they needed to go,” recalled the 28-year-old.
“My sister and her boyfriend got the dogs and some clothes and about 10-15 minutes later a firefighter arrived to tell us we needed to evacuate,” Padilla added.
“The firemen, all they did was make sure the people left. They didn’t let us open the stables or do anything with our horses.”
Padilla said they had no choice but to leave the horses behind.
”There is no policy or procedure that says you cannot go to your stables to release your horses while you are on your property,” said Brian Humphrey, LAFD spokesperson, who could not comment on what may have occurred in this case without all of the details and circumstances of this particular incident.
“Sometimes a split decision is made or it could be a judgement call,” he said. He noted that people may be told they cannot go back up to their property when it isn’t safe to return.
“Human life is paramount,” Humphrey said.
The fire raged all around them as they headed down the hills to safety. “The fire was right there, right next to the road,” Padilla recounted. “It was horrible.”
Initially they were told all of their horses had burned. But, someone managed to get to the ranch and confirmed that thirty horses had perished. The others it appeared managed to escape and, of those they have accounted for, some have injuries including a horse named “Ruben” who is suffering burns to his hind legs, his backside and in one of his eyes.
“The veterinarian said he will probably recuperate, but it’s going to take a long time,” Padilla said.
Now they are tasked with getting back up to their property to see what can be salvaged, Padilla said, and they must deal with the painful job of handling their horses’ remains, some of which are buried under debris.
It took them 25 years to get the ranch to where they wanted. It was a special place to relax and enjoy and share with family and friends after a hard day’s work. Rancho Padilla was a gathering spot on the weekends. Tardeadas were even held at their ranch.
It’s difficult, but with so much to handle, Padilla said, they are focusing on what needs to be done.