Bella, an 8-year-old gray Appendix, only trusts a few people. In the midst of the raging brush fire in Manorville on Monday, the mare became even more nervous — pacing and running in circles as her fellow stablemates were loaded, one by one, on trailers.
Annie's Acres, on Wading River Manor Road, evacuated a total of 58 horses, according to Elizabeth Johnston, of Mt. Sinai, whose family owns Bella and three other horses boarded there. Bella was the last one to be evacuated.
Johnston thought she was going to lose the mare that they foaled to the wildfire, which seemed to be headed straight for Annie's Acres.
The Johnston family's three other horses were already evacuated when they returned to get Bella, her mother Barbara's mount. "It was honestly really scary," Johnston said. The roads were shut to vehicle traffic, so she and her father Larry Johnston started walking.
A retired New York City Police Officer, Larry Johnston was able to get through some of the barricades. They hitched a ride on an ATV with two firefighters to make their way toward the stable.
"We went deeper and deeper through the smoke. My nose was in my shirt. Then all of sudden, we looked up and on three sides we were surrounded by fire," Elizabeth said. The firemen did a U-turn and speeded out of the area.
But, Elizabeth, a junior on the CW Post equestrian team, said they couldn't just leave. "I would do anything possible to get my horses out," she said. "I was more concerned about the horses than me."
Her father found a way around the flames on foot, and Elizabeth Johnston jumped in an emergency vehicle that was willing to take her.
They got back just in time. The bushes and the front gate were burning. Smoke inhalation was a major concern for the horses.
But, Bella wouldn't load easily. It took 20 minutes of coaxing to get her on the trailer, which was the last of three trailers to leave the stable. They finally got her on, just as it was getting darker, around 6:30 p.m.
Elizabeth credits owner Laurie Wolny's niece Nicole Murphy — a Bridgehampton native – for staying at the stable the whole time and starting the evacuation early on. The stable made it through without much damage, according to reports.
Three of the Johnstons horses are at Union Stable in Riverhead, but Bella ended up at Hillcrest Stable, also in Riverhead, which took in 20 horses.
All 58 are safe. Elizabeth said they appear to be healthy.
"They are settled in; they seem fine," she said. Even Bella is starting to relax.