FILLMORE (CBSLA.com) — The incredibly-rugged Sespe Wilderness near Fillmore is where volunteers and search crews are looking for a 36-year-old firefighter last seen nine days ago.
Michael Herdman, of Arcadia, was camping along a riverbed Friday night in the Los Padres National Forest with his fellow firefighter/paramedic Taylor Byars and Herdman’s dog, Duke.
At some point, Duke ran off and Herdman and Byars went after the animal. They split up and Byars said that was the last time he saw the off-duty firefighter.
Byars says he spent two days looking for Herdman and reported him missing Sunday.
Since then, crews and volunteers have been combing the terrain by foot and by air, even implementing drones, and have turned up several signs of hope. They’ve found a pair of footprints — Herdman went chasing after the dog barefoot — and air rescuers have said they’ve spotted the dog twice this past week.
City of Los Angeles Animal Services volunteers set up several traps for Duke, hoping that if they find the dog he’ll lead them to its owner, but the animal has evaded capture.
Officials say five people have been injured during the search, with one rescuer having been bitten on the hand by an enormous rattlesnake, a search spokesman said. Bill Herrera, who is assistant chief at the Fillmore Fire Department, has needed 52 vials of anti-venom serum.
Four others have suffered minor injuries, including a sprained ankle.
Officials suspect that Herdman, who is a seasoned hiker, hasn’t found his way back because he’s been injured. With the weekend’s rising temperatures they say it’s imperative they find him quickly.
More than 50 search and rescue crews from around the Southland, including those from Los Angeles, Orange, Fresno and Kern counties, have joined Ventura County members in the hunt for Herdman.
The search party includes two unmanned aircraft and 86 ground searchers.
“These are folks that are specifically trained on how to track people. They’re trained in recognizing and interpreting footprints…not just in terms of direction, but in terms of how much weight the person is bearing, where they’re bearing their weight could they be injured. I mean, there’s a whole science to this,” Ventura County sheriff’s Sgt. Eric Buschow said.
KCAL9’s Adrianna Weingold picked up the story Saturday evening.
“We didn’t find any clues where we were. There’s just so much foot traffic at this point and time with the numerous teams going through the area and we’ve been in an area today that’s been searched once and twice before it at least,” said Andy VanSciver with Ventura County Search and Rescue. “When one of our brothers is lost, we want to find him,” VanSciver said.
The search site is 15 miles into the wilderness from the command post at Fillmore. The search area reportedly spans 50 square miles, with a focal point of 6 square miles.
“Obviously we’re concerned for Mike’s well-being, so it’s been tough but we still have hope,” Arcadia’s Fire Chief Kurt Norwood said.