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Tips for the Rider: Fire Safety - Mitigation and Evacuation

When Wildfire Strikes

 
When we decided to do a fire safety issue of the Equestrian Collections Savvy Shopper, I didn’t know that I would have a front row seat to the worst fire disaster in Colorado history. The Waldo Canyon fire in Colorado Springs killed two people, and destroyed 346 homes. More than 32,000 people, countless pets, horses, alpacas and cattle were evacuated.   My family and my horse were among the evacuees.  
 

We were lucky. My home was spared, and my family, pets and horse are all safe.   What did I learn?  First, that people can be incredibly generous.   Friends offered stalls and meals; complete strangers brought truckloads full of hay; hotels waved pet policies so we could keep our small animals with us. Firefighters, military, and utility workers came from all over the country to help.  Ultimately, we all learned that there are forces of nature that are bigger than we are.  The firestorm that hit Colorado Springs on June 26th was approximately 2000 degrees and moving at 65 mph.  Once that heads in your direction, there is nothing you can do except get out!  There are, however, a lot of things you can do to prepare yourself and your horses for the possibility.  

Fire Mitigation

The single most important thing you can do on a continuing basis to protect your home and barns is fire mitigation. Fire survives and spreads based on fuel and wind. A burning ember from a wild fire can travel approximately a half mile by wind, and has a 65% chance of lighting whatever it lands on. You want to make sure that ember has as little fuel as possible when it lands on your property.   
 
  • ·         Remove tree limbs and brush adjacent to buildings at least ten feet
  • ·         Remove “ladder fuels” (dry brush under trees that connects to lower limbs). Clear the brush, remove lower limbs.
  • ·         Create separation between tree stands of at least ten feet
  • ·         Remove all dead and diseased timber and vegetation
  • ·         No wood shake roofs of any kind!
  • ·         Store hay separate from other buildings, and well away from horses.

Evacuation Planning

No one with horses wants to evacuate, and you can't know when or how the evacuation order will happen.   Regardless of the uncertainty, you’ve got to have a plan! Based on my experiences during Waldo Canyon, there are a number of things you can do to make the evacuation experience smoother and safer.
 

Long Term Planning:

Sign up for Reverse 911 – EVERYONE should sign up for reverse 911 and emergency alerts. Check with your county emergency agency to find out how to register your phone and address to get alert messages to your cell phone.  

Make a Communication Plan - One of the biggest issues we had was communication. In a large boarding facility, it takes too long to individually call owners. Texting may be a better route.  But be aware - cell service of any kind may not be reliable.  On June 26th,  the system is Colorado Springs was so overwhelmed that thousands of calls and messages were dropped.  Everyone needs to be personally responsible and keep an eye on the situation.  Realize that you may not get a call or warning.  

Plan an Evacuation Location - Livestock evacuation centers are generally set up at large venues like fair grounds and show facilities.   However, having a prearranged back up option is a good idea. Make sure it is located well away from your barn; you don’t want to head to a nearby barn only to have to evacuate from there too!

Create a Parking and Loading Plan - Multiple trailers going in and out creates chaos! Imagine the worst horse show parking you have ever seen, and then add stress, smoke, panicked owners, and the occasional water drop helicopter flying over.  Designate one loading area, with clear in and out driving lanes. Assign someone the job of directing traffic.
 

Manage Trailers and Transportation:

Count Trailer Slots - If you don’t have enough trailer slots for all the horses on your property, consider recruiting potential drivers/rigs from other barns. Don’t depend on your immediate neighbors!! They are probably evacuating too.   Do not plan on making repeat trips.  Once you are out, you may not be allowed back in.
 

Check Trailer Maintenance - We realized we had a low tire just as we were hooking up the trailer. We were able to stop at a service station on the way out, but if that tire had been flat, we would have had a serious issue. Another boarder had an expired trailer license. Simple things easily fixed ahead of time.  

Trailer Train Every Horse on your Property (and load them occasionally to practice) - This cannot be stressed enough!  Even your most reliable loaders will probably be stressed and anxious; this is NOT the time to trailer train horses.

 

What to Take with You:

Have Halters and Identification. Every horse on the property should have a breakaway halter with identification and a lead line. You can order customized halters with owner’s name and phone directly on the halter. 

Have a First Aid Kit - Be sure to take basic equine first aid supplies. There is a good chance horses being evacuated will be in  contact with strange horses. There will be bumps, bruises, bites and cuts.  Someone should also be responsible for basic health information paperwork, any equine insurance, and Coggins for all horses. Make sure to have your vet and farrier's phone numbers.   

Take Hay if you can - Large evacuations will stress the local hay supply. Unless hay travels with evacuated horses, there may not be enough hay in the local area for immediate needs. It will take a few days for large hay shipments to come in. 

 
 

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