press release - 06301601







Search and Rescue Teams Travel to Assist with Erskine Fire in Kern County


Kern County, CA - June 30th, 2016

Three Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Search and Rescue dogs and their handlers traveled to the South Lake area of Kern County this week to assist with building searches in the Erskine Fire burn area.  The fire, now 72% contained, started on June 23, 2016 in Lake Isabella and has consumed more than 46,000 acres, destroyed 285 homes and is responsible for the deaths of two residents. 

The three dog teams are certified in Human Remains Detection (HRD) through the California Rescue Dog Association (CARDA) and were dispatched by CARDA at the request of the California Office of Emergency Services (CalOES). The request for mutual aid was made on Sunday, June 26, 2016 to help search buildings for potential victims.  The biggest push for search dogs was on Tuesday morning when approximately 12 dog teams responded from across the state including the three teams from the Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Search and Rescue Team.  The teams included Juanita Smith and her two-year old Border Collie “Chaos”, Sheila Malavasi and her four-year-old German Shephard “Rica” as well as Sheriff’s Deputy Tracee Walker and her seven-year-old Border Collie “Mojo”. 

The teams started searching at approximately 5:45 a.m. on Tuesday morning, June 28, 2016, and worked in more than 95 degree heat throughout the morning until about noon when the heat created dangerous search conditions for the dogs.  They helped clear numerous residential properties in the burn area that had been damaged or destroyed during the fire including mobile homes and sheds.

Sheriff’s Search and Rescue dog handler Juanita Smith said the dogs all performed very well.  She said, “It was great to see the training we put in week after week pay off whether it be for our Santa Barbara County community or in other communities in need across California.”

Search and Rescue dog “Chaos” has only been mission ready since January.  She has been deployed several times but this was her first fire-related mission.  Search and Rescue dogs “Mojo” and “Rica” are veteran search dogs with numerous searches under their harnesses including mutual aid response to the Oso mudslide in Washington in 2014. 

For more information on CARDA, go to   

The Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Search and Rescue team is on call 24 hours a day, seven days a week.  For more information on this highly-trained, all volunteer group, please go


For Media Inquires Contact PIO Kelly Hoover


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