More than one week after California firefighter Mike Herdman disappeared while on a camping trip, searchers have found his dog, Duke. According to officials, the German shorthair mix appears to be in decent shape, albeit dehydrated, hungry and “exhausted.” Geoff Dean, sheriff of Ventura County, said that still no sign of the missing firefighter has been found and beginning Sunday night, the search for Herdman will be scaled back. Until then, the 80 experienced search and rescue volunteers who came to assist in the search at 6:00 a.m. Sunday morning will continue their mission, in which they were joined earlier Sunday by helicopters.
Herdman’s family, according to officials, is in agreement with the decision to reduce the search effort tonight. There will remain two smaller groups of searchers at the California campsite from which Herdman disappeared, located 15 miles into the wilderness, and at the head of the Tar Creek trail, where Duke was found.
Herdman was last seen in Los Padres National Forest, located north of Los Angeles, California, while camping with his friend, Taylor Byars, on June 13. Both men are firefighters for the Arcadia Fire Department. Byars says that the 34-year-old firefighter disappeared after both men rushed into the wilderness after Duke. Herdman was in such a hurry to catch his dog that he left his shoes and supplies behind. The men became separated while on their chase and Byars did not see Herdman again. The terrain in which they were camping was so rugged that Byars, who had never been camping before, took two days to hike out of the forest in order to report his friend missing.
For the past week, searchers from California state agencies as well as the Department of Homeland Security have used tools including infrared cameras and two drones on their mission to scour 50 square miles of the national forest, encompassing cliffs, canyons, and creeks clogged by boulders, while occasionally catching glimpses of Duke, who they hoped could lead them to Herdman. It was not until approximately noon on Sunday that they were able to actually catch Duke as he appeared in the parking lot in which Herdman had left his car. All told, more than 5,000 hours have been logged by those searching for Herdman.
The terrain is so rugged that five searchers have suffered injuries, with the latest, a minor leg injury, occurring Saturday. One of the injured, Assistant Chief Bill Herrera of the Fillmore Fire Department, is still listed in intensive care after having been airlifted to a local hospital. He had been bitten by a rattlesnake on his hand so severely that 52 vials of antivenom were required.
Herdman’s loved ones remain hopeful that his experience and training in the outdoors will help him to stay safe until he can be rescued. One friend, Michael Macgregor, states that he is certain that Herdman could keep himself alive for weeks if necessary. Authorities maintain that they still consider their efforts to be for the rescue of Herdman, who is married and has a daughter, and believe that he may still be alive.
By Jennifer Pfalz