No One Ever Expects a Forest Fire: What's Your Plan?

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I noticed today as I was driving that the undergrowth is filling in the landscape around here. The trees are leaved out, and the "brush" understory is now making it more difficult to see as far as I could a few weeks ago. Spring is making progress?or is it?


Along with the joy of spring weather after winter comes the heat of summer. And heat means danger of fire.

We hear a lot about grass management in pastures, but not much about managing trees and bushes. We all believe that a pasture for horses should have shade from the sun, but what if that big lone tree is also a lightning magnet? And what if that brushy scrubby line that gives your pasture privacy from the road also becomes a tinder line for a forest fire?

Every year, it's a good idea to re-evaluate your property and run through some "what if" scenarios. One of the most important is where and how you park your truck and trailer, and what you have in it. Whether you need to evacuate from a fire or get a colic-stricken horse to the vet in the middle of the night, your trailer is your most important tool. But if you can't see to hook it up after dark, or it is blocked in by farm equipment or cavaletti, you need to think of a new plan.

All horse owners would benefit from learning more about forest fires and how they work. Today the University of California at Davis published a guide to forest fire information from key members of the University's faculty, and it has great information and also links to other documents about fires.

Among the experts consulted was Dr. John Madigan, a UC Davis authority on equine and emergency veterinary medicine. He urges horse owners to first clear brush at least 30 feet from barns and corrals. (That's Dr. Madigan in the photo.)

Among other tips from Dr. Madigan:
Trucks and trailers should be kept nearby and operational in case animals need to be evacuated, and an alternate exit by foot should be mapped out in case roads are blocked by fire.

Stalls and doors should be closed after evacuation to prevent fire-panicked horses from running back inside.

A community-based emergency evacuation plan for horses is essential. Horse owner groups should work with local animal control and fire departments to develop a plan and a list of horse hauling resources and sites to take horses to safety rapidly. A practice drill should be conducted early in the fire season.

A veterinarian should examine any horse burned or exposed to heavy smoke, and owners should not apply any topical treatments to burns.

Photographs and written descriptions of all horses should be kept in a bank safe-deposit box to help identify animals that become lost or separated during a fire.

Dr. Madigan didn't mention it, but I'm sure that barn aisle clutter is something that those of us in the real world are acutely aware of, while people who dwell in clinics and breeding farms are not. All those tack trunks, blanket hangers and "stuff" like wheelbarrows in the aisles makes evacuating horses in the dark (the power is sure to be out if you need to evacuate) a challenge and a danger.

Sure, you've heard it all before..but maybe this is the year you'll get organized.

Now, where did I put those flashlights?