Cactus Fire threatening Salt River wild horses

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(Source: 3TV/CBS 5) (Source: 3TV/CBS 5)
(Source: 3TV/CBS 5) (Source: 3TV/CBS 5)
(Source: 3TV/CBS 5) (Source: 3TV/CBS 5)
(Source: MCSO) (Source: MCSO)

The Cactus Fire burning along the Bush Highway near the Salt River is threatening the herd of wild horses living in that area of the Tonto National Forest.

[ORIGINAL STORY: Brush fire breaks out along Bush Highway near Salt River]

The Salt River Wild Horse Management Group says it is “in emergency mode and is on standby with [a] veterinarian."

The SRWHMG is a nonprofit that monitors the herd, documenting births and deaths, as well as details about each horse.

The fire broke out Tuesday near the Salt River tubing area and has already burned about 25 acres on both sides of the Bush Highway and as of Wednesday morning, there was no containment.

“Immediately after the fire broke out, the SRWHMG, after making sure their people were all accounted for, gathered at the Tubing parking lot to be ready and available for any type of horse emergency,” according to a news release from the organization.

The groups had volunteers keeping an eye on the fire, which is burning in the middle of the horses’ habitat, overnight and into the early morning hours.

"If this fire gets out of hand it will be our worst nightmare," Simone Netherlands, SRWHMG president, said the news release. "[W]e immediately spoke to the Forest Supervisor and he promised to take this fire very seriously even while it is not threatening any structures right now."

Netherlands said the biggest concern is that a horse might injure itself while running from the smoke and flames.

“[Horses] can panic,” the news released explained. “The river terrain is treacherous and anything can happen when they are in a panic, they can break their legs, get entangled in fencing or babies can possibly [lose] their bands while they are running away.”

Netherlands said the SRWHMG will be checking on the horses as best it can. Anyone who sees an injured wild horse can call the group’s emergency hotline at 480-868-9301. Click or tap the phone number to call from this story on your mobile device. 

Comprised of several family bands, the 80-140 Salt River horses that call the Tonto National Forest home are known all over the country, particularly after a 2015 proposal by the U.S. Forest Service to round them up and relocate them.

[WATCH: Salt River horses (and little foal!) take a dip]

[SLIDESHOW: Salt River wild horses]

After a public outcry, the U.S. Forest Service backed off on that plan, allowing the horses to stay put.

Gov. Doug Ducey in May signed a bill protecting the Salt River horses, which he described as “beautiful, majestic and a treasure to our state.”

The herd's first baby of 2017, a colt, was named in Ducey's honor.

The horses made headlines again in October after a foal was shot, killed and mutilated. Two adult horses were wounded but recovered.

Volunteers monitored the heard while the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office scoured the scene of evidence.

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