Updated: Feb 18, 2021
The recent Woolsey Fire in Southern California and Camp Fire in Northern California have been a startling reminder that part of horse ownership in California now means we have to be prepared to evacuate in case of a wild fire.
Just last year, the horses at Laura G Dressage were affected by not one, but two different fires. We had to evacuate from the La Tuna Fire and, after a move from our barn in La Tuna Canyon to a bigger facility in Lake View Terrace, the Creek Fire. Every fire behaves differently. The experiences from each very different fire taught me not only what it takes to evacuate horses quickly and safely from a dangerous situation, but also what you can (and should!) plan for and what you can't (and why).
Fires are unpredictable and fires move fast. You cannot plan for how much time you will have. You maybe fortunate enough to be able to calmly load up your horse, pack up your feed and equipment. Or (more likely), you may not even be able to get to the barn. An emergency hauler will be evacuation your horse and you will have to find him at an evacuation center.
While fires are completely unpredictable and much of an emergency situation will be outside your control, there are a few things you can do to be prepared.
Know where your local evacuation centers are located.
During a fire, many roads will be closed and access to threatened areas will be limited to emergency personnel only. If you are not personally hauling your horse, you may not be allowed to get to the barn to help evacuate your horse. You will have to find them at the evacuation center. Know where these facilities are a head of time. Know which one is closest to your stable. Your horse will likely end up there. Know which feed stores are closest to that evacuation facility so you can either pick up or arrange to have feed (and possibly even equipment) delivered.
Make it easy for the hauler to evacuate your horse.
Make sure there is always a halter and lead rope on your horse's stall or corral. Every horse at the facility needs its own halter and lead rope. One of the biggest challenges we faced in evacuating horses during the Creek Fire was horses did not have halters and lead ropes. We had no way to safely move the horse from their stall to the trailer.
Have your contact information on the halter. I use these ID tags made by Go Tags. They are affordable and easy to customize and order through Amazon. There are many products out there made specifically for evacuation situations (neck bands, leg bands, etc) but I feel ID tags on the halter are the best way to go because you may not have time or even be present to put this extra band on your horse. The emergency evacuation hauler is going to put on the halter, load up, and go. Make it easy for them. Put your horse's ID and contact information on the halter.
Put together an emergency kit... but don't keep it in the barn!
I can't stress this enough... you may not be able to get into your barn. The best planned emergency kit won't matter if it's stuck at your burning property. If you have a trailer and will be hauling your own horse, keep this emergency kit in your trailer. If you don't have a truck and trailer, keep this emergency kit in your car (yes, I have buckets, sharpies, and duct tape in my car ALL THE TIME).
There are plenty of great resources out there for what to include in an emergency kit. Things I consider to be absolute essentials include: a water bucket, bailing twine, black and silver sharpies, duct tape, blue painters tape, and a sharp all-purpose knife. These essentials will get you started once your horse arrives at the evacuation center.
Stay in contact with your emergency hauler.
If your contact information is on your horse's halter, the hauler will contact you and let you know they have evacuated your horse and where they are headed. Once they unload your horse at the evacuation center, make sure you save the hauler's name and number. Call them first when it's time to take your horse home. These people are professional haulers who put their lives on the line to evacuate horses from dangerous situations FOR FREE. Give them your business to take your horse home. It's the least you can do to thank them.
I hope I won't have to evacuate my horses again, but living in Southern California, I wouldn't be surprised if I do... so we'll always be prepared to be ready to go!