Huge wildfires are devastating parts of eight Western US states right now, some of the largest in recent history. Wildfire can quickly become a real threat to rural landowners and when horses are involved, action needs to be taken quickly to save the lives of your animals and reduce property damage. Being proactive is the safest plan. Use these tips to begin your pre-wildfire evacuation planning.

A Firesafe Area should be as large as possible, with non-flammable fencing and footing — such as a large, fenced in riding arena.

Photo: Alayne Blickle

Fires on horse properties can have different causes – from barn fires, to hazardous materials spills, to lightening strikes, to wildfire spreading—all of which may require emergency evacuation. When living in a dry, flammable environment it is imperative that you are prepared to quickly move your horses to a safe area --fire travels rapidly, especially when wind’s involved.

If a wildfire breaks out in your area, decide early on whether you need to leave. Late evacuation is a deadly option, risking loss of lives and property. If you are unprepared or wait until the last minute to evacuate, you could be told by emergency officials to leave your horses behind. Once you leave your property, you have no way of knowing how long you will be kept out of the area. If left behind, your horses could be unattended for days without care, food or water. If you decide to stay and actively defend your property from fire, be aware of the risks.

Everyone’s situation differs according to the size and nature of their horse enterprise. That’s why every horse owner needs to develop an individual evacuation plan before hot weather and fire season arrive. Begin your planning with these tips:

1) Decide in advance which horses you will evacuate and make sure they are suitably trained for transport.

2) If you do not have enough trailer space for all of your horses, make arrangements ahead of time. Talk with a nearby horse friend who might be willing to pick up your extra horse(s) and transport them. Discuss which horse(s) they would transport, where to take them and how this process might work.

3) Remove all synthetics from your horses such as nylon halters, blankets, sheets and fly masks. These materials are plastic and can melt when an ember hits them, causing serious burns. Instead, use cotton  or leather leads and halters, avoiding metals and buckles.

4) Pre-determine possible locations to take your horses to should a fire arise. Possibilities include:
• A friend’s horse property
• Stockyard or sales yard
• Fairgrounds
• Show grounds
• Racetrack
• Large park

Do not assume any of these sites are an options; have a conversation beforehand with the appropriate personnel to inquire whether they would accept care of your horses during any emergency. Review expectations and requirements, and how you would compensate them.

5) When evacuation is not possible place horses in a pre-identified Firesafe Area on your property. A Firesafe Area should be as large as possible, with non-flammable fencing (metal or wire) and footing (sand, bare dirt or gravel.) Possible Firesafe Areas could be a sand arena with panel fencing, a large dry lot turnout with wire or field fencing or an overgrazed field with wire fencing. Put water and feed in the center in non-flammable (metal) containers.

6) If time permits, remove halters (so that the horse doesn’t get caught on anything) and ID your horse(s) by writing your cell phone number on a front hoof with a magic marker or on the hip with a grease marker (the kind used in cattle sales yards or endurance rides.) Do this only if time permits!

See the Horses for Clean Water website for more firewise information for reducing wildfire risk on your property and wildfire evacuation planning with horses. For information on reducing firewise risks on your horse property see the past Smart Horse Keeping blog, Firewise Tips for Horse Owners.

It’s easy to think wildfires only happen to other people, but this kind of thinking can lead to tragic consequences. Don’t wait until an evacuation is eminent to start your planning. Act now and prepare a Firewise Plan for your horse property.

Stay safe,