‘It was really scary,’ says couple who fled Hill Fire with 5 horses and 4 dogs

Marie and Matthew Burd were driving to their rural Santa Margarita home from a doctor’s appointment in San Luis Obispo Monday afternoon when they saw a tall smoke plume billowing up from behind Cuesta Ridge.

They could tell it was coming from the general vicinity of their property on Horseshoe Canyon Road, 1 mile from the Huer Huero Road intersection, the northern edge of the fast-growing Hill Fire. Worry for their five horses, four dogs and cat immediately set in as they “hauled” north on Highway 101, through Santa Margarita and east out Highway 58.

“Just to see the smoke, it was really scary because we still didn’t know,” Marie Burd said Tuesday morning from the parking lot of Santa Margarita Elementary School, where she and her husband spent the night in their RV trailer, along with their dogs, after evacuating their property.

They were among 11 people who slept at the shelter set up by Red Cross, according to Cindy Osgood, shelter manager.

Osgood said others came and went throughout the evening and Tuesday morning to get food and use the restrooms. She said cots, blankets and “comfort kits” that include toiletries were also made available, along with an on-site nurse, mental health professional and spiritual counselor.

“We’re receiving wonderful support from the school system,” said Osgood, who noted that people can make donations at RedCross.org.

The Burds’ horses were also safely evacuated.

Matthew Burd, a professor in the Cal Poly animal science department, was able to coordinate with Jaymie Noland, the head of the animal science department, to secure a trailer to evacuate their horses to the university by 6 p.m.

The couple thought they would be able to stay at their house, but by 8 p.m. the fire had crested a nearby ridge and was “torching — it started really moving,” Marie Burd said.

That’s when they realized they should head to safe ground.

“I thought we were going to be OK, be able to eat (dinner) because I looked up on the ridge and thought we were going to be OK,” she said. “… And then I looked back up on the ridge and there was a hot spot that had flared up again.”

They made it to the school with their dogs by 10:30 p.m.

Marie Burd did not know the status of their property as of Tuesday morning, and Highway 58 remained closed in both directions at Highway 229 as the fire remained 40 percent contained after burning between 1,200 to 1,500 acres. San Luis Obispo County Sheriff’s spokesman Tony Cipolla estimated around 250 people were evacuated Monday.

“It was really scary,” Marie Burd said.