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Horses & Wildfires: How to Create a Fire Evacuation Plan for Your Farm

Last updated October 14, 2023 by Brad Heath

horse fire evacuation planFor a woman named Chris, Colorado has always been home.  She moved there as a child when her father retired from the military.  Wildfires weren’t much of an issue at first.  But lately, it’s something she and her neighbors keep at the top of their minds.

We’ve all watched in horror as the recent wildfires have swept through portions of the Western United States.  At the time of this writing, the fires have burned vast areas of land and killed at least 36 people since early August.

Smoke from the blazes in Colorado, California, Oregon and Washington has blanketed the regions resulting in some of the poorest air quality on the planet.  In parts of Oregon, the air quality is so bad that it goes beyond the scale of the state’s Air Quality Index.  Smoke has traveled the entire length of our nation and is creating hazy skies in New York City and Washington, D.C.

Through it all, our hearts go out to the families and farms in the way of the blazes.  They are being forced to evacuate their homes and watch as their lives go up in flames. This isn't the first fire and it won't be the last.  Another wildfire back in 2015 resulted in some incredible stories of heroism among horse owners.

Recently we spoke with Chris from Five Star Ranch. Her farm is directly in the path of the largest blaze in Colorado. Read on to hear her important firsthand account of how to safely perform horse evacuation when the danger comes too close.

Thanks so much for talking with us, Chris.  I’m curious… what kinds of fire prevention and containment strategies do experts in your area suggest? 

There are many things a homeowner can do to make their home more defensible from a fire.  Limbing up trees to 4-6’ and removing “ladder material” under the branches will help prevent the fire from moving from the ground up into the treetops. Other defensible actions the homeowner can do are cutting trees that are too close to the house, keeping vegetation mowed, and making sure firetrucks can get into your driveway. 

We recently redid our driveway and made a circle drive and turn around area for large trucks on the recommendation of the local fire chief who had told us fire trucks couldn’t get in with our old driveway.

Ask your local fire station for a fire assessment: they can look over your property and make recommendations: sometimes seeing obvious things which become invisible to you because it’s been in place so long.  Example: a plastic bench on your patio is excellent fuel which might allow the fire to jump to your house/barn.

What kinds of safety precautions or fire evacuation plans have you used on your own farm?

fire evacuation planThe first thing I tell horse owners is to plan ahead as much as you can. I was really glad I had pre-packed and made lists. That saved me when we got the word to evacuate. We had been watching the smoke from a distance but the day we evacuated the winds picked up and the fire grew 30,000 acres in one day so it went from a fire “off in the distance” to being an out of control fire headed for us.

We pre-packed and set our bags including the cat carriers by the door so we could “grab and go” in a hurry.  We also pre-packed horsey stuff in the horse trailer.  This horse evacuation plan was really helpful.

Something my husband thought to do was to walk through the house with his phone videoing everything should the worst happen.

One thing I would recommend to all horse owners is that they take the time before a fire to teach their horses to load. I’ve heard horror stories where people had to turn their horses loose because they couldn’t get them in the trailer. 

If you are faced with turning your horses loose, be sure to put identification on them. Some owners braided a tag with their name and phone into the horse’s mane.  Others spray painted their phone number on the side of their horse or took a magic marker and wrote their phone number on the horse’s hooves. 

Your farm is really close to the Cameron Peak Fire in Northcentral Colorado. How are you doing with everything?  

As I write this the Cameron Peak Fire is like a smoldering volcano.  The fire is still active at 103K acres and only 4% contained.  Although we had heavy snow in the mountains on the fire, the snow is melting and the authorities expect the fire will pick up again as the temperatures rise. Sadly, we may have to re-evacuate if the fire grows more in our direction.

As the crow flies, we are only seven miles from the current fire location.  The terrain here in the mountains is steep and we have a lot of beetle-killed pine trees that acts as fuel for the fire so it is extremely tough to fight fires in our area.

Since the snow they relaxed the order to voluntary evacuation so we moved back to our home but we are keeping our bags packed and ready to re-evacuate if the fire takes off again.

horse fire evacuation plan

And how are you holding up personally?  Where will you go?

Getting the early snowfall was a blessing. Before the snow came the fire was completely out of control.  Now they have had time to put in more defensive measures to slow the fire.

I was fortunate that I had a friend who had room for my horses. Knowing I had a place to go was such a relief.  I have horse friends in California and Oregon who have told me their refuge spots have burned. They are packed and ready to leave once the orders come but they have no idea where they will go. Having to evacuate from a fire is stressful enough but I can’t imagine not having a safe destination.

What kinds of horses do you own and what kinds of riding do you enjoy?

We own five horses – two mustangs, two quarter horses and an Azteca (quarter horse – Andalusian cross).  We enjoy trail riding and I cross train in dressage.  We also use our horses to move cattle. Besides the horses, we also have two donkeys, a ball-obsessed dog and two cats. 

Having your horse trailer ready-to-go is extremely important for a solid fire evacuation plan.  What types of steps have you taken for this?

horse fire evacuation plan

We currently have two horse trailers – a three horse living quarters trailer and a two horse bumper pull

Several of us horse owners in the area coordinated evacuation efforts via text or messenger but I think going forward we may get a phone list and formalize so no one gets overwhelmed or left.  One neighbor had more horses than would fit in her trailer but friends brought stock trailers over to evacuate her extra horses.

Thanks so much for your time and we hope you stay safe!

Horse Fire Evacuation Plan

Now that you’ve heard Chris’s story, here are the main things to know in the case of a wildfire or other type of natural disaster.  A speedy horse evacuation could be the difference between safety and tragedy.

  • Before a fire starts, take steps to protect your home and farm from a spreading fire.  Remove flammable debris and make sure emergency response vehicles can have easy access to your property.
  • Have your local fire chief inspect your farm for possible safety issues regularly.
  • Plan ahead by creating a horse trailer packing list and pre-packing some grab-and-go horse supplies.
  • Teach your horses how to load safely onto the trailer so it doesn’t become an issue if you need to leave in a hurry.
  • If you are not able to trailer your horses away from your farm, put identification information on their body and set them loose so they can run from the danger.
  • Find a safe refuge location where you can go if you need to evacuate your horses.  This might be a friend who lives a few hours away or a trusted boarding facility.
  • Keep your horse trailer in good condition and perform regular upkeep and maintenance.

If you have any specific questions about how your horse trailer can be maintained for safety, reach out to Brad Heath with your questions.

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