LATEST NEWS: Thomas Fire Incident Updates



When we evacuated from our National Training Center (NTC) campus on the night of December 4, we weren’t sure if we would have a home to come back to after the devastating Thomas Fire swept through our canyon.

Today – 18 days later – our staff and Search Dogs in-training eagerly returned to the NTC, relieved and happy to return to some normalcy. More importantly, we are ready to pick up right where we left off!

While our dogs have been working with the Training team here at the NTC this past week in certain training areas that were unaffected by the fire, they had remained at the Ventura Beach Marriott every evening for their comfort and safety as indoor areas of our campus were cleaned. Now, our canines are very pleased to be back home in their kennels at the Petco Foundation Canine Pavilion on our campus.

You could even say they are nestled in their beds, with visions of rubble piles dancing in their heads!

We are so grateful to everyone who has supported us during this difficult time and we know that many of you have wanted to help in some way. Our goal is to stay the course and move ahead into 2018, focused on recruiting more rescued dogs, forming more new Search Teams and welcoming more veteran Teams to train onsite than ever before.

All the while, we will be cleaning up and rebuilding the parts of the NTC that were lost to the Thomas Fire, including Search City, parts of Industrial Park and our campus in general.

We still have a job to do and will continue to put all donations to good use. All gifts will help strengthen our operations as we move forward, including our recovery and rebuilding efforts.

As we look to the future, we are more certain than ever that, with your help, we can continue to strengthen disaster response in America and the world through the training of the incredible Search Dogs and their Handlers who will answer the call the next time disaster strikes.

We are deeply grateful to all the emergency responders continuing to work the Thomas Fire, which is expected to burn into January. Thank you to everyone in this amazing SDF family for supporting us during this difficult time and helping us get back on our paws in 2018!

Thank you all for being #PartoftheSearch!


We’ve been in a bit of a holding pattern this week as we await approval to return to the National Training Center (NTC). We’ve settled into our new “normal” with our dogs are still happily housed locally in a Ventura hotel with our Canine Care and Training staff caring for and conducting modified training exercises daily. We have received the good news that our NTC is just about ready for us to return, with one more infrastructure assessment being done this week. If everything goes as expected, and with a little bit of luck, we will be returning home by next week!

Last, but certainly not least, huge thanks to Ventura County Star for coming out to see our facility and share our story. They’ve been with us since the beginning, as has the rest of our community that has been so deeply affected by this disaster. Thank you all for your enduring support!

Read the Ventura County Start article here.


Search Dog in-training Echo enjoys some down time while staying at a hotel in Ventura during the Thomas Fire evacuation.

For many of us on staff, and we’re sure some of you, this past week has been a blur. As you know, our dogs and staff were evacuated from our National Training Center (NTC) campus Monday evening before the Thomas Fire entered Wheeler Canyon, and everyone has been safe and sound at hotels in the Ventura area since.

Driving the road to the NTC on our first trip back to campus, many of us held our collective breath as we drove past several structures that had burned down. As we completed the curve just before the entrance to our facility, we were anxious to see what awaited us. Thankfully, we were relieved to see all of our main buildings – the Welcome Center, Handlers’ Lodge, Canine Pavilion and Caretaker’s Quarters – were unscathed, as were the Showgrounds, Canine Memorial Wall, and Guardian Glade.


Though the landscape is now in stark contrast to what we left behind as we exited our gates Monday evening, we are so grateful that all of our staff, our visiting Handlers, and dogs are safe.

Somehow, miraculously, only a few areas of the NTC were affected as the fire raged down our canyon toward the roadway and into the hills westward:

Search City has burned to the ground, with only remnants of the buildings and vehicles that made up our mini disaster neighborhood remaining. The train car at the top of the Train Wreck prop was burned and will no longer be usable and, sadly, the historic Boone’s Cabin, containing relics from over one hundred years of history is completely gone. Other areas throughout the campus were also impacted but these three areas were the worst of it.


It has been heartbreaking to see the damage sustained by our local community– and our hearts go out to those who have lost so much more.


We have already begun moving forward with our insurance company to recover from the fire and rebuild the areas affected. Cleaning crews are mopping up the kennel areas and buildings this week as we prepare for the return of our dogs and staff to the NTC.

While we are all eager to return to our home at the NTC, we are being careful to take every precaution to ensure the health and safety of our dogs and staff. Everyone is well cared for where they are currently staying, and we will move the dogs back to the kennels and staff back into the offices when the NTC is ready for us to return.

Despite this setback, we still have a job to do and will continue to put all donations to good use. All gifts will help strengthen our operations as we move forward.

Our Trainers have been working with our dogs each and every day on the training elements possible at the hotel, keeping them engaged both physically and mentally during their displacement.

When we return to the NTC, our operations will return to normal and we will forge ahead training new Search Dogs and partnering them with First Responder-Handlers to help find survivors after disasters.


We look forward to having you continue on this journey with us as we get back on our paws and continue fulfilling our mission of strengthening disaster response in America. This may have been a bump in the road but, inspired by the strength and resolve of our community, we are confident that 2018 will be a successful year for SDF.

Please join us in thanking the amazing emergency responders, including some of our Handlers who are working the front lines of this fire, the hotel staff providing accommodations for our dogs and staff, our incredible volunteers and staff for stepping up to help in any way possible and, thank YOU, for supporting us as we come through this incident together.


There has been no change in status today – our Search Dogs in-training are still happy and healthy with our staff in Ventura, enjoying many outings each day and lots of love!

Several of our staff members have evacuated from areas affected by the fire but are all safe and accounted for.

The Los Angeles Times happened to bump into one of our Trainers in the hotel lobby and did a little story on SDF’s evacuation – read the story here.

We are so humbled by the strength of our communities and the dedication of the first responders fighting this blaze. Thank you all again for your support!



We are happy to report that our Search Dogs in-training are settled in and doing well, with our staff working around the clock to ensure all dogs are fed, watered, walked and given plenty of love. Special thanks to the Crowne Plaza Ventura Beach and Ventura Beach Marriott for their hospitality while we wait for #ThomasFire evacuation orders to be lifted and assess what needs to be done at the NTC in order for us to return home.

We are so grateful to California Task Force 7 (Sacramento) Handlers Brandon Andersen, Brandon Budd, Vinnie Fuccella and Paul Januario who evacuated the NTC with us and have been helping care for our pups ever since.

Last, but certainly not least, we continue to send a big THANK YOU to all the first responders fighting the wildfires, including many of our Handlers, who are on the front lines with strike teams throughout Southern California. Our thoughts are with everyone working to help others during this disaster – keep up the good work and please stay safe out there!



First and foremost, we are so grateful to the incredible fire crews who have worked tirelessly over the past 17 hours to fight the Thomas Fire. The winds in Ventura County have been relentless since it began and our thoughts are with everyone affected by this devastating blaze.

We were able to reenter Wheeler Canyon and get to the National Training Center (NTC) this morning – the campus remains mostly intact and we are conducting damage assessment throughout the property today. Due to poor air quality and the quickly changing situation, our Search Dogs in training will remain in the Ventura area with our staff until it is safe to return to the NTC.

Thank you all for the thoughts and prayers – we consider each of you as part of the SDF family and we are so appreciative of the support you’ve provided during this harrowing time.


Due to the unpredictability of the strong winds and the fast pace of the Thomas Fire threatening the foothills of Santa Paula tonight, we have made the decision to evacuate the National Training Center – all humans and canines are accounted for and leaving the campus. They will be staying in the Ventura area tonight and our staff is caring for our Search Dogs in training, along with help from our Sacramento Handlers who were staying at the NTC tonight as well.

Thank you to everyone who has expressed concern and offered assistance tonight. We will keep everyone posted as the situation evolves.

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