What You Need to Know About the California Wildfires & How to Prepare for a Natural Disaster with Horses
By Nicole Fava
August 29, 2020
Equine Fire Safety Tips
Fire season has just begun here in California and in many other parts of the United States. Over the last few weeks, I’ve been faced with a harsh reminder that wildfires are unpredictable and pose a real threat to our equestrian communities. On the evening of August 15th, a lightning storm sparked several fires around the San Francisco Bay Area. The SCU Lightning Complex Fire was closest to my barn and spread rapidly over the next few days. On the evening of Tuesday, August 18th, my friend and I found ourselves staring over the hill at an ever-growing plume of smoke, glowing red at times. For the first time in our lives, we realized that our barn was in danger and that we needed a plan for our horses. Here are some tips to help you and your horse stay safe during fire season.
While it may look like a horse show, this is actually a local evacuation site at the Cow Palace, where horses and livestock were evacuated to and were met by vets, volunteers, and relieved owners. Photo courtesy of Nicole Fava.
1) Get your horse microchipped
A microchip verifies your horse’s identity, which can come in handy for both competitions and natural disasters alike. Believe it or not, a microchip is only about the size of a grain of rice! Check with your veterinarian on how to get a microchip for your horse.
2) Have an evacuation plan
If you do not already have a horse trailer, consider investing in one. Though they can be expensive, trailers will be your saving grace when an evacuation becomes necessary. I realize that trailers are not possible for everyone, so work with your barnmates to develop an evacuation plan. Decide which horses will go in which trailers.
If trailering off-property is not an option, consider the following tips to produce the most successful outcome during a wildfire.
3) If you have to set your horse free…
It's important that you braid your information into your horse’s mane. I recommend going to a pet store and create a dog tag with your horse’s information. Then, braid the tag into their mane using rubber bands. Image courtesy of Nicole Fava.
- Remove all flammable gear. This includes halters, fly masks, fly sheets, tail bags, etc.
- Write your phone number on your horse’s hooves in Sharpie.
- Use weatherproof livestock paint to write your phone number on your horse’s coat.
- Braid your information into your horse’s mane. Go to a pet store and create a dog tag with your horse’s information. Then, braid the tag into their mane using rubber bands.
- Close all stall doors. When scared and confused, horses will often run back to their stalls or paddocks for a sense of comfort. Be sure to shut and lock these spaces, as you don’t want your horse to end up trapped during a blaze.
Writing your phone number on your horse’s hooves in Sharpie is another great way to ensure someone knows how to get in contact with you should you need to set your horse free. Image courtesy of Nicole Fava.
4) Keep in mind the air quality how that affects your horse
Even if you don’t need to evacuate your horse or don’t experience a wildfire firsthand, you may notice some residual smoke in your area. If the AQI is over 151, the air is unhealthy for your horse and you should limit their exercise to walking only.
How you can help
My barn ended up being safe from the SCU Lightning Complex Fire. However, many in my area were not as lucky. Watching the devastation unfold around us was heart-wrenching, and my friends and I wanted to help. We contacted a local large animal evacuation group to see where our rigs could be of use. Bringing horses from an evacuation zone to safety was an incredibly rewarding experience that I will never forget. If you want to help your community during this fire season, post in Facebook groups, call local barns, and ask where you are needed. If you have a trailer to offer, chances are someone will need it. If you don’t have a trailer or want to lend an extra helping hand, you can volunteer at your local evacuation site. These sites often need help unloading horses, identifying them, feeding them, and cleaning stalls.
Wildfires are fast growing and unpredictable, but making plans and being prepared can make all the difference to you and your equine partner. Don’t think it can’t happen to you, and take precautionary measures starting today! If your horse is safe and sound, remember your efforts can always be put towards evacuations and horses in need. As horse people, we’re a community… and natural disasters never fail to prove it. Stay safe, pony people!