Help keep your horse safe in the event of a wildfire with these expert tips.
SSummer is high fire season. If you live in an area at risk for wildfires, take action now to minimize a barn fire’s impact on your horse. If your area hasn’t seen a wildfire for 15 years or more, this year’s El Nino weather pattern may increase the chance of drying conditions and devastating fires. Follow these expert steps to minimize fire risk, prepare to evacuate, and react safely should a wildfire strike.
• Gather information. Insurers and your local fire department personnel will walk through your barn to identify hazards and offer suggestions for reducing fire risk. • Design for fire safety. Design or retrofit your barn with fire safety in mind. Open ventilation, frost-free hydrants, and 33 yards minimum of defensible space around each structure allow fire crews to protect your barn from falling cinders and direct flames. Consider a fireproof roof, such as steel or tile, rather than one made from shake or composite material. (For best practices, go to the National Fire Protection Association website, www.nfpa.org.) • Invest in a sprinkler system. Install and maintain an automated sprinkler system. Although the initial cost can be high, note that many insurance companies will cut premiums by as much as 50 percent if you have an automated sprinkler. It’s also a depreciable expense. • Minimize fuel. Store hay and bedding in a separate building, keep your barn clean and cobweb-free, and enforce a strict “no smoking” policy. Spray fire re- tardant to limit flame spread on existing wood surfaces. • Landscape with care. Use xeriscaping (landscaping with drought-tolerant plants) and Firewise plants to reduce flammable vegetation around structures. (For more information, go to www.firewise.org.) Avoid landscaping with “kindling,” such as combustible mulch. Keep plants away from buildings. • Invest in alternate power sources. Consider investing in generators or solarpower sources to run pumps, appliances, and your sprinkler system in the event of a power loss. Store enough water to keep your horse hydrated if you lose power.
Prepare to Evacuate
Make evacuation plans ahead of time. If disaster strikes, you’ll save time and quite possibly your horse’s life. Here are the steps to take now. • Plan evacuation transportation. How many trailer spaces do you have available? If you pack that four-horse gooseneck trailer with your four horses, where will you put your dogs, cats, and human family members? Would you have to make two trips to get the other four horses you own? • Train horses to load. Train all horses on your property to load into the trailer, no matter what. Practice loading each horse alone. Practice when it’s hot, when it’s raining, and at night. • Identify short-term boarding. Find an alternate place to board your horse during an evacuation, both in and out of state. • Ready your rig. Keep your truck fueled and hitched to your trailer with everything loaded, so you’ll be ready to go within a few minutes of an evacuation warning. • Know barn-fire response equipment location. Make sure everyone in your horsehold knows the location of barn-fire response equipment, such as emergency phones, hoses, water sources, fire extinguishers, and bolt cutters. • Develop an escape route. Drive through every road in your neighborhood to identify escape routes. Keep in mind that officials may close off roads to enforce the evacuation. Do you have more
than one way out to safety by the roads? Keep printed maps in every vehicle for reference in an emergency. • Decide where to meet. Choose in advance a place where everyone involved in your household and horsehold will meet offsite, if you’re evacuated. • Perform practice drills. Post your evacuation plan, and practice it with surprise drills. Vary the time of day and drill requirements. Practice catching all the horses and loading them into the trailer. Haul out a few miles, and return.
Note that it’s not flames that will force you and your horse to evacuate, it’s the thick black smoke filled with toxins and poor air quality.
If flames are so close that they threaten your barn, it’s usually the windblown cinders (partially burned materials) that will ignite a fire before the flame front actually gets to your property. These can be blown in from hundreds of yards or even miles away.
If you need to evacuate, follow these steps to help keep your horsehold and household members safe. • Avoid synthetics. Avoid synthetic (nylon or plastic) halters or lead ropes during a wildfire; they can melt, causing serious burns to horse or handler. Also avoid using nylon sheets, fly masks, and other synthetic tack or equipment. Very few horse-clothing items are fire retardant. • Provide water and forage. If you have to evacuate, pack several days’ worth of water and forage in your truck or trailer for each horse. • Identify your horse. If you need to leave your horse at an evacuation facility, make sure he’s properly identified. (For identification methods, go to TrailRiderMag.com.) • Stay back. Untrained people — without respiratory protection, proper fire-protective clothing, and proper training — should never enter burning or smoking barn structures or zones. • Shelter in place. If you can’t evacuate your horse in time, have a shelter-in-place plan. Don’t leave your horse in your barn; house him in a pasture with all combustible vegetation removed or plowed under. Shelter-in-place measures are considered to be very dangerous and should only be used where there isn’t time to evacuate your horse to a safer place. • Consult a veterinarian. Consult a vet- erinarian immediately for aftercare due to any airway complications from smoke and toxic fumes. Toxins released during burning can severely damage your horse’s lungs and block the absorption of oxygen into the blood, causing asphyxiation. Flames don’t necessarily need to be visible for this to occur. Tiny particles can also cause health issues. After a fire, he might appear medically stable for days, then crash with severe pneumonia. TTR
Summer is high fire season. If you live in an area at risk for wildfires, take action now to minimize a barn fire’s impact on your horse
Make sure everyone in your horsehold knows the location of barn-fire response equipment, such as emergency phones, hoses, water sources, fire extinguishers, and bolt cutters.
REBECCA GIMENEZ, PhD