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Wildfire Preparation and Evacuation: Tips for Horse Owners

Are you prepared to keep your horses safe? Use this checklist and advice to protect your herd and horse property.
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By Holly Clanahan, America’s Horse editor

Preplanning is a crucial part of fire safety for horse owners. It’s imperative to have a good evacuation plan if you live in an area that could be hit by wildfire, says Canadian author Michelle Staples, author of “Save Your Horse! A Horse Owner’s Guide to Large Animal Rescue.”

That means sitting down long before any sign of trouble, packing and making an evacuation checklist. 

  • If you have cats, then you need carriers. 
  • Fish? Large containers with lids. 
  • Save precious photos on a USB thumb drive or to the cloud. 
  • Pack important documents like bills of sale and wills in a “go bag.”
  • Set up online bill pay in case you’re not able to get mail at an evacuated address.
  • Every person and animal in the family should have a “go bag” with ID, medication and food, a change of clothes and other essentials.
  • Include in each “go bag” a photo you and that person and/or animal. This may help if you are separated.
  • Even better, microchip your horse so identification is that much easier. 

Now that you’re packed, next comes evacuation planning. Michelle advises:

  • Plan more than one route out of your property.
  • Unless you’re at the end of a dead-end street, plan how you will get out if your main exit is closed off. 
  • If you are way out in the wilderness, figure out how long it will take to open the farthest gates on your “back 40” pasture so your horses can run to safety. 
  • Although there can be surprise situations, if you know a wildfire is coming your way, it’s best to evacuate early, at the first hint of trouble.

“If you’re hauling a trailer, you need to be off the roads when the general evacuation order is given,” Michelle says. “You can always go back and get your horses if the fire doesn’t hit you.”

Evacuating Horses

You’ll need to identify multiple evacuation destinations for your horses in several different directions and distances.

To evacuate your horses due to wildfires:

  • Make sure you have a horse trailer available.
  • Keep your truck and trailer in working order, fueled up and ready to go.
  • Keep your truck and trailer hooked up, if possible, for the fastest-possible escape. 
  • If you don’t have your own truck and trailer, make arrangements (well before any emergency) with a friend or neighbor to borrow a trailer or hitch a ride.
  • Be certain your horses will load easily. Even if that means practice, practice, practice.

Need help horse training for trailer loading? Try our Horse Trailer Loading Tips free e-book. 

Hey, Neighbor

Coordinating with neighbors is a great idea, especially if they have animals. When an urgent evacuation is ordered, perhaps a neighbor who is at home can help one who’s out of town or at work. The absent neighbors may not get all their “stuff,” but if their animals are whisked to safety, that may be the most important thing.

Protect Your Property and Buildings

Your property’s main entrance should already have your address in large numbers, visible from the road. Michelle recommends sturdy, high-contrast reflective numbers that would be easy to read in smoke. If you’re evacuating, put a sign to that effect on your gate as you leave, so that emergency responders don’t waste precious time looking for you.

Fire-prevention techniques that, done ahead of time, may help improve your odds in case your property is literally in the line of fire. Rebecca Gimenez, author and president of Technical Large Animal Emergency Rescue, advises:

  • Vegetation should be cleared from your fence lines, along your driveway and for 100 feet around the perimeter of your buildings. If it can burn, cut it back or plow it. 
  • Landscape your property with plants that are less likely to catch fire and slow to spread flames. Extension offices should be able to point you in the right direction. 
  • Remember that combustible mulch and situating plants too close to buildings are bad ideas.
  • Sprinkler systems in barns, which would likely require a generator to power the pumps once electricity is lost, can also slow down a fire. 
  • Commercial fire-block gels are available, intended to be sprayed on structures before evacuating.