Salt River Wild Horses Survive Cactus Fire

Fox10 MESA, Ariz. (KSAZ) – It was a busy day for fire crews as they worked to get control of several wildfires in our state, including the Cactus Fire, which is burning close to home in the Tonto National Forest near Mesa.

There is concern about a herd of wild horses that live in the area. Volunteers with the Salt River Wild Horse Management group are monitoring the horses, which have moved to safety. It appears that they’ve taken shelter under trees and not in danger.

ABC15 Ashley Loose, MESA – The Salt River Wild Horse Management Group is worried that the Cactus Fire could negatively impact the population of horses in the area.

The Cactus Fire ignited on Tuesday along the Bush Highway, an area home to beloved Salt River wild horses.

The group says they are monitoring the growth and activity of the fire alongside fire crews.

“If this fire gets out of hand it will be our worst nightmare”, Simone Netherlands, president of the group, said in a media release. “We immediately spoke to the Forest Supervisor and he promised to take this fire very seriously even while it is not threatening any structures right now.”

The horses have reportedly been seen running away from the fire, but even escaping the blaze could mean trouble for them. The group says if horses panic, they could get injured on rough terrain, break their legs, get entangled in fences or lose track of their family bands while fleeing.

Officials say they will be monitoring bands of horses as much as possible throughout the morning Wednesday.

As of Wednesday morning, the fire had burned 25 acres and was not contained. As of Thursday the fire had grow to 200 acres, as of Saturday 29th the fire has grown to 800 acres in diameter with 500 acres burned and  is 65% contained. Full containment expected by Monday.

EAST VALLEY (3TV/CBS 5) –

The Cactus Fire burning along the Bush Highway near the Salt River is threatening the herd of wild horses living in that area of the Tonto National Forest.

The Salt River Wild Horse Management Group says it is “in emergency mode and is on standby with [a] veterinarian.”

The SRWHMG is a nonprofit that monitors the herd, documenting births and deaths, as well as details about each horse.

The fire broke out Tuesday near the Salt River tubing area and has already burned about 25 acres on both sides of the Bush Highway and as of Wednesday morning, there was no containment.

“Immediately after the fire broke out, the SRWHMG, after making sure their people were all accounted for, gathered at the Tubing parking lot to be ready and available for any type of horse emergency,” according to a news release from the organization.

The groups had volunteers keeping an eye on the fire, which is burning in the middle of the horses’ habitat, overnight and into the early morning hours.

“If this fire gets out of hand it will be our worst nightmare,” Simone Netherlands, SRWHMG president, said the news release. “[W]e immediately spoke to the Forest Supervisor and he promised to take this fire very seriously even while it is not threatening any structures right now.”

Netherlands said the biggest concern is that a horse might injure itself while running from the smoke and flames.

“[Horses] can panic,” the news released explained. “The river terrain is treacherous and anything can happen when they are in a panic, they can break their legs, get entangled in fencing or babies can possibly [lose] their bands while they are running away.”

Netherlands said the SRWHMG will be checking on the horses as best it can. Anyone who sees an injured wild horse can call the group’s emergency hotline at 480-868-9301. Click or tap the phone number to call from this story on your mobile device.

Comprised of several family bands, the 80-140 Salt River horses that call the Tonto National Forest home are known all over the country, particularly after a 2015 proposal by the U.S. Forest Service to round them up and relocate them.

After a public outcry, the U.S. Forest Service backed off on that plan, allowing the horses to stay put.

Gov. Doug Ducey in May signed a bill protecting the Salt River horses, which he described as “beautiful, majestic and a treasure to our state.”

The herd’s first baby of 2017, a colt, was named in Ducey’s honor.

The horses made headlines again in October after a foal was shot, killed and mutilated. Two adult horses were wounded but recovered.

Volunteers monitored the heard while the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office scoured the scene of evidence.

MESA, Ariz. – The Cactus Fire started Tuesday night, lighting up a small area along the Bush Highway about four miles northeast of Mesa.
Officials say the fire is human-caused and is under investigation.

The fire is between Granite Reef and the Phon D Sutton recreation areas. Officials say it’s burning along the river bottom in the Tonto National Forest.

According to officials, the fire has burned approximately 200 acres, but no buildings or roads are threatened at this time. As of Wednesday afternoon, it was 20 percent contained.

A forest spokesperson says crews hope to conduct burnout operations as soon as Wednesday night, weather permitting, and hope to have full containment by Thursday.

Several fire crews and engines are working to contain the fire.

Gusty winds Tuesday evening made efforts difficult for firefighters.

Brush fire burning multiple acres and causing road closures

In a release sent Wednesday, the Salt River Wild Horse Management Group, which has a presence in the Tonto National Forest, said it’s on high alert and monitoring the wild horses in the area closely.

The president of the group, Simone Netherlands, said “it will be our worst nightmare” if the fire gets out of control.

“Wild horses have a natural instinct to fear the smell of fire, and the smell of fire is everywhere, it is raining ashes on the river. They can panic,” Netherlands said in a release. “The river terrain is treacherous and anything can happen when they are in a panic, they can break their legs, get entangled in fencing or babies can possibly loose their bands while they are running away.”

Netherlands also said it was upsetting to learn the fire was human-caused, but she was not surprised.

“We are always putting out fires, literally,” she said. “We always see fires that people just leave. We see fires where people are not supposed to have fires.”
She said she understood why people want to light a fire and enjoy the outdoors at night, but she warned it is not worth it.

“Just realize what a terrible risk you are taking with this amazing piece of nature,” said Netherlands. “It’s a habitat. It is priceless.”

And though Tonto National Forest officials said no structures were threatened, the fire immediately impacted people’s lives.

Noelle Noir was camping in the recreation site near the fire after she got in a crash with her camper.
She was forced to evacuate, and now she has nowhere to go.

“We were actually relying it on for survival right now, because I was in a pretty bad car accident,” said Noir. “I lost my camper, and we were tent camping. We tried to go last night, and they would not let us go with the road closed.”

In the burn zone are mesquite and salt cedar trees and cactus. Fire officials said the wet winter in the Valley allowed for a lot of brush and vegetation to grow.

SRWHMG Volunteers Keep Eye on Horses During Fire