With massive wildfires scorching through millions of acres in the western U.S., USRider – national provider of roadside emergency assistance for horse owners – urges equestrians and others to take precautions.
Evacuation plans and shelter-in-place planning should be a part of an owner’s annual review of disaster mitigation strategies for a facility. Poor examples include owners leading their horses down the streets or interstate evacuation routes. This demonstrates the lengths to which people will go to attempt saving their animals, further confirming that most people fail to plan ahead.
Be sure to have a shelter-in-place plan in case the animals cannot be evacuated. Animals should not remain in barns during wildfires. Instead, they should be housed in a pasture in which all combustible vegetation has been removed. Water and forage should be provided, and each animal should be properly identified. Avoid synthetic (e.g., nylon or plastic) halters or lead ropes that may melt and cause serious burns to the horse or the handler. Never use nylon sheets, fly masks, or other synthetic tack or equipment during a wildfire. Very few items of horse clothing are fire retardant.
“Normally it is not the flames of a wildfire that will cause you and your horse to need to evacuate – it is the thick black smoke filled with toxins and poor air quality that impact you well before the flames get to your location – often many miles away depending on environmental factors (humidity, wind direction, speed, etc.),” said Bill Riss, General Manager for USRider.
When choosing to live in an area subject to wildfires, barns should be designed with wildfire and fire safety in mind: open ventilation, frost-free hydrants, and 33m minimum defensible space around EACH structure allows fire crews to protect it from falling cinders and direct flames.
Tile roofs are relatively able to resist flame spread from these cinders, versus shake and composite roofs, which are more vulnerable. However, tile roofs are not the typically budget-friendly choice for barns. Besides, in a barn, it is usually the ground floor where many combustibles, such as bedding, hay and straw storage, occur that cinders are able to instigate flame.
It is usually the windblown cinders (partially burned materials such leaves, paper, lightweight duff) that cause facilities to catch on fire before the flame front actually reaches the property. These can be blown in from hundreds of yards or even miles away. Consider using Firewise plants (www.firewise.org) in your landscaping. While there are no fireproof plants, some catch and spread fire more slowly so are much safer. Avoid landscaping with mulches made of combustibles, plants that easily catch on fire, and putting plants too close to buildings. Your local extension service can provide a list of Firewise species.
Teaching animals to be reliable loaders in horse trailers or transportation equipment is an excellent prevention mechanism to facilitate evacuation. Identify an alternate place to put animals so you’re not trying to decide what to do as you lead them out of the barn. For regional wildfire disasters, have an evacuation facility in another state where you can take the animals.
Practice your evacuation plan to find any weaknesses. Work with the local fire department since they are the professionals that can point out individual problems to consider with prevention.
Be sure to consult a veterinarian immediately following an animal’s exposure to flames and smoke. Toxins released by the process of burning cause severe damage to the lungs of any living organism. Carbon monoxide and carbon dioxide are common byproducts of fires and when inhaled, block the absorption of oxygen at the level of the hemoglobin in the blood, causing asphyxiation through anoxia. Flames do not necessarily need to be visible for this to occur. Animals removed from wildfire-affected areas may appear medically stable for days, then crash with severe pneumonia.
There are numerous other suppliers of fire retardants that can be sprayed on existing buildings to limit flame spread on existing wood surfaces. One such product is Barricade, a fire block gel produced by Firestop. For more information, call (866) 828-1805 or email [email protected].