Team ELITE will hold an orientation and disaster service worker training event 5 p.m. to 6 p.m. May 31 at 10040 Victoria Way in Jamestown. RSVP to teameliteinformation@gmail.com.

The team is also planning a Disaster Preparedness for Animal Owners class 6 p.m. to 7 p.m. June 14 at 10040 Victoria Way in Jamestown, co-hosted by Team ELITE, Team ACES and Tuolumne County Animal Control.

For more information, to apply to volunteer, or to make donations, email teameliteinformation@gmail.com, or call (209) 782-0616, or visit https://www.facebook.com/TeamELITEinformation/ online.

A new nonprofit group of volunteers who want to help evacuate livestock during fires and other potential disaster situations in Tuolumne County is seeking qualified members and donations.

The nonprofit is called Team ELITE, for Evacuation of Livestock in Tuolumne Emergencies, and they are based in Sonora and Jamestown.

On Wednesday, Jeanna Santalucia, a co-founder of Team ELITE, and her friend, Christine Jardine, trucked two horse trailers up to Pine Mountain Lake Stables outside Groveland to move three of Jeanna's horses down to a pasture off Tuolumne Road outside Sonora.

Santalucia has worked as a manager at Pine Mountain Lake Stables, since the 2013 Rim Fire. Lester Scofield, who still works there, said the Rim Fire came within 1,000 yards of the stables, and he had to evacuate eight horses to a couple different locations to get them away from the fire that ended up burning more than 400 square miles of forest watersheds, most of it in the Stanislaus National Forest and Yosemite National Park.

Scofield is not a member of Team ELITE, but he supports what they're doing and he believes in their mission. Scofield said he has about 16 horses at his own place, DNL Ranch off Ferretti Road outside Groveland.

"Any time there's a fire up here it's a concern," Scofield said. "When there are other fires elsewhere in the state, resources get stretched thin and then we get a fire up here. Then we're really concerned, especially what we're going to do with our animals."

During the destructive 2017 Detwiler Fire south of Coulterville, Scofield said he helped evacuate five horses, one cow, three pigs and 13 goats from Greeley Hill to the Don Pedro area.

Across the road from Pine Mountain Lake Stables, Santalucia and Jardine worked together to demonstrate how they move horses with trailers, from a friend's corral on private property down to the Sonora-Tuolumne area. Santalucia said she's been working with horses 50 years and teaching people to handle and ride horses 40 years.

Santalucia said her three horses were abandoned in a pasture out near La Grange, rescued two and a half years ago by local animal control, and she adopted them about two years ago.

Her horses are a buckskin mare named Playa, her colt Rio, and her younger colt Valentino, who was born Valentine's Day 2017.

Santalucia and Jardine spoke gently to the horses as they approached them and haltered them in the corral. They led Playa out first, and Rio tried to follow. Santalucia led Playa into one of the trailers and worked with the mare to make sure she was secured properly inside the trailer.

Playa snorted and kicked the trailer a few times, upset to be separated from her colts. Rio and Valentino knickered and whinnied from where they were in the corral to their mother.

Santalucia held the corral gate while Jardine led Rio to the second trailer. Once Rio was secure inside the trailer, Jardine brought Valentino to join his brother in the second trailer. Once the two colts were both secure inside their trailer, Jardine and Santalucia jumped in their trucks for the drive down to the pasture outside Sonora.

They took their time navigating the detour from Ferretti Road through the gated Pine Mountain Lake community, coming down New Priest Grade, then Jacksonville Road and up Highway 108 to Mono Way and Tuolumne Road.

At a friend’s property off Tuolumne Road, Santalucia and Jardine offloaded the horses to a pasture near a pen where several goats were chewing and relaxing. Playa, Rio and Valentino looked content to be off the trailers and reunited in the pasture.

“We've been working for almost two years now to create a livestock evacuation team for the county,” JoLynn Miller, co-founder of Team ELITE, said Wednesday. “We had a trial run last summer at the Detwiler Fire, and learned so much.”

Miller says Team ELITE is now a 501 (c) (3) organization with a bank account set up for donations, and members are tied in to work closely with animal control and another volunteer outfit called Team ACES, for Animal Care Emergency Services.

People with Team ELITE are planning a meeting for fully-certified members only later this month.

Contact Guy McCarthy at gmccarthy@uniondemocrat.com or 588-4585. Follow him on Twitter at @GuyMcCarthy.

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