Many residents are now worried about their animals if a dangerous wildfire erupts this year.
YORBA LINDA, Calif. (KABC) -- An Orange County program that helps people evacuate their horses and other large animals during emergencies plans on downsizing this year, and residents are getting worried.
"I feel like if there was a fire tomorrow, we'd all be scrambling, again, just like 2008," said Dee Dee Friedrich referring to the Freeway Complex Fire, which burned more than 30,000 acres, damaging or destroying more than 300 homes in the region.
At the time, Friedrich and her husband found themselves among the volunteers, helping load horses onto trailers and driving them to safety. The flames burned dangerously close to their own home.
"They came all the way to the end of our hill and after helping our east end, my husband finally said, 'We've got to look out for our own,'" Friedrich said.
Shortly after, San Juan Capistrano established the Large Animal Response Team, also known as LART. The volunteer program (with nearly 300 volunteers) helped evacuate large animals across the county during emergencies. Equestrians on one on end helped those on the other when needed.
However, LART is downsizing its response efforts to stay only within San Juan Capistrano jurisdiction. The move went into effect on January 1. Friedrich now worries about the safety of her four horses and that of other large animals across northern and central Orange County.
San Juan Capistrano Assistant City Manager Matisse Reischl said the city does not have resources to run a countywide program indefinitely.
"We never had, you know, a formal MOU or agreement with the county. We didn't have a cost-sharing agreement with any other cities. It was really, you know, all coming from San Juan Capistrano," she said.
Instead, LART will provide trainings for those wanting to gain evacuation skills. The program has a roster of a dozen volunteers willing to help countywide during an emergency, if they're available.
Friedrich said the ball is rolling in northern Orange County, with several cities showing interest in starting a regional program. She hopes it gains momentum for the sake of the animals.
"You're going to grab grandma and your dog and your personal belongings that are near and dear to your heart, and it's like, 'Oh my God. How do I get my horses out of here?'" Friedrich said.
Anyone interested in helping form a team in the Northern and Central Orange County region can contact Friedrich at 714-401-4215 or D2Bridn@gmail.com.