As smoke settled around our Bend, Ore., home Monday morning I hitched up the horse trailer just in case. Before my husband left for work, we had a short discussion about our wildfire plans. If the fire on Bureau of Land Management acreage five miles east of our small horse property forced an evacuation, I would turn on the lawn sprinklers, grab our important documents' folder, load the horses, pack up the dogs and cat, and let the chickens loose from their coop. I would then head for safety at a friend’s boarding facility on the other side of town.
Making a plan like that feels a little surreal. But our recent TheHorse.com coverage of devastating wildfires in central Washington and the heartbreaking stories horses and livestock set loose, burnt, and lost made the risk to my own home and horses, as well as our need for a logical evacuation plan, all the more real.
This fire near our home, dubbed the Mayfield Fire, is the closest we’ve experience in the five years on our property. But it’s just one of many that have threatened homes in our part of central Oregon’s high desert.
Last week I received a text from my friend Laura as a wildfire in the Deschutes National Forest picked up speed on the southeast side of Bend, just a few miles from her home:
“If I have to evacuate my critters, can I bring my horses to your 3rd paddock?” she asked.
The answer is, of course, yes. She didn’t even have to ask.
Laura was right to feel nervous as fire rolled through pine stands near her home. In 1996 the Skeleton Fire raged through the same area, engulfing 17,000 acres and destroying 19 homes in a horsey community that edges the forest. Another friend described evacuating her horses during that fire in ’96 and then sitting on her rooftop watching the flaming hills as her husband used heavy equipment to fortify a fire barrier around their 20-acre farm. They got lucky when the fire turned, but they’ve never forgotten the fear of loading horses into the trailer as flames and smoke filled the sky.
We also got lucky. The Mayfield Fire jumped the road and threatened one nearby ranch; however, crews got the flames fully contained after the fire had burnt just less than 40 acres.
This experience has made me realize just how underprepared we are if wildfire does head our way. I really have no good excuse, considering the information I’ve gleaned from our blogs, The Horse 911 by Rebecca Gimenez and Smart Horsekeeping by Alayne Blickle.
Today, with tips from our bloggers in mind, I’ve called an arborist to discuss taking down some dead and dying trees that would make great tinder for a roaring fire. And that tractor and mower deck I’ve been drooling over for the past three years now seems like more of a necessity than a luxury considering our need to mow a firebreak around our property’s perimeter.
Yeah, that’s what I’m going to tell my husband. I need a tractor—it’s part of my fire-safety plan.
How are you coping with fire danger and other natural disaster threats in your area? Do you have prevention and evacuation plans in place?
Until next time, stay safe.