The fires that have ravaged the Northeast San Fernando Valley and other Southland areas this week have left a grim trail of devastation, including lost homes and businesses. Several area ranchers lost horses and other animals along with their property.
The Chase family — LeRoy, wife Shirin, and daughters Kymberly, Nicole and Danielle — are among the lucky ones.
LeRoy Chase, the president and CEO of the Boys & Girls Club of San Fernando Valley in Pacoima, also runs the Monte Verde Ranch and boarding house in Sylmar with his daughters and son-in-law Aaron Lasley. They have 30-40 ranch horses of their own, and board and care for another estimated 150 ranch horses and polo ponies for other owners on a little over 10 acres of land.
On Tuesday, Dec. 5, Nicole received a phone call at the family home at approximately 4 a.m., telling her that the hillside near the ranch was on fire. She immediately alerted her father, who was ill and could only follow the news and images of the Creek Fire on television. Nicole arrived at the ranch 30-40 minutes later.
“You could see fire on the hillside,” Nicole described. It was impossible for her to avoid looking at the sky,
“It was all red and it was ugly and very depressing.”
Nicole, her brother-in-law Lasley and the ranch workers saw how close the fire was, and it quickly became apparent the animals would have to be relocated.
She called all of their boarders to see if they wanted to or could move their horses. All of them did.
Then came the hard part — trying to save the ranch and the animals.
The Los Angeles Fire Department couldn’t offer immediate help because they were busy evacuating people. It was up to them to figure it out. Embers had already started landing on their ranch.
“Our wrangler Cesar got on a tractor and plowed down vegetation creating a fire line, that saved the ranch,” Nicole said. Other workers joined Nicole and Lasley in putting out the embers and small flames that landed near them. They hosed down a pair of eucalyptus trees that had caught fire.
And then, Nicole said, others arrived with equipment to move the horses to safety.
“We had called California Polo Club (in Lake View Terrace) and they brought trailers. Geronimo Bugarin, head of an equestrian group in Sylmar, showed up out of nowhere and got three of our most challenging horses into a trailer without injury. Dale and Heather Gibson, who have a ranch, took our horses there. But then, their ranch caught on fire, and we moved the horses again. Dale came back at midnight and helped us again.”
She said the LAFD did arrive when it was able and helped keep the blaze from creating further havoc.
The operation took the rest of the day and most of the night. But all of the horses were transported out of danger. The ones owned by the family were taken to the Boys & Girls Club.
Nicole said Lasley sustained burns on his back, feet and hands but was not seriously injured nor were the workers. She still had not slept when she talked to the San Fernando Valley Sun/El Sol on Wednesday.
“I look like an ash,” she said, finding a little humor from a harrowing 30-plus hours of work.
She was extremely grateful to all of those who helped save the ranch and the animals. The family will reach out to others in the area who weren’t as fortunate and sustained losses.
“We are lucky and we’re blessed,” Nicole said. “The equestrian community mobilized in such a manner… we had some miracles take place.”
LeRoy was also thankful. He was able to purchase the ranch two years ago from former owner Melanie Coto, and uses it to teach riding and put on shows for Boys & Girls club members as well as the other businesses there.
“Our family was inspired when we saw the ranch,” LeRoy said. It’s provided many opportunities for young people in this area. When we bought it two years ago, we could not have done so without those with an interest in kids, including Melanie Coto.”
It’s one reason why, LeRoy said, he wants to keep the ranch operating despite the potential tragic episodes of fires or other natural disasters.
“Right now the sun is not shining the way we want it to,” Leroy said. “But we will get it shining that way again.”