Calif. Wildfire Season Begins; Horse Owners Urged to Prepare

Calif. Wildfire Season Begins; Horse Owners Urged to Prepare

Horses should be trained to load easily in trailers before evacuation becomes necessary.

Photo: Anne M. Eberhardt/The Horse

As horses evacuated while firefighters battled wildfires in Ventura County, Calif., return home, owners in other wildfire-prone areas are preparing for another fire season.

Ventura County Fire Department spokesman Bill Nash said that on May 3 and 4, the Springs and Hidden Valley fires ignited, involving a total of 28,000 acres. The fires threatened 4,000 homes, Nash said.

“There were large animal evacuations,” Nash said.

Lou Fox Bender, manager of the Cañada Larga Ranch in Ventura, located two canyons away from the fire zone, was prepared to take in evacuated horses if necessary.

“We were prepared to receive horses,” Fox Bender said. “We didn't have to do that, but I know people brought horses to (local) fairgrounds and to nearby barns.”

Nash said that on May 7, firefighters managed to contain the blaze. Investigators declared the fire's cause undetermined but not suspicious, he said.

Though the Ventura County wildfires were contained, Nash said that region's wildfire season is just getting started, meaning area horse owners should prepare for more fire activity and possible evacuations ahead.

“The key word for large animal evacuations is 'early,' ” said Nash.

He advises horse owners in wildfire-prone regions to pack trailers in advance with necessary equipment—such as halters, lead ropes, and feed—and to position trailers so they can leave easily in case of an evacuation. Meanwhile, horses should be trained to load easily before evacuation becomes necessary. Nash also suggests owners have a planned evacuation route and have advance arrangements with a specific destination capable of accommodating them and their horses.

In deciding when to evacuate, Nash advises owners to monitor a wildfire's progress and location to determine if and when they should leave the area.

“People need to have a 'trigger point' for evacuation,” Nash said. “You don't have to have fire at your back door to execute an evacuation plan.”

Finally, horse owners residing in wildfire-prone areas can establish “defensible spaces” to protect their animals and property, Nash said. Defensible spaces are 100-foot perimeters surrounding barns, paddocks, homes, and other structures to discourage fire from advancing through the property. These spaces are devoid of overgrown brush, flammable chemicals, or trees that could fuel cinders from wildfires. Livestock left on the property should be placed in this defensible space, Nash said.

“Defensible spaces allow firefighters to get between the fire and the house, the rest of the property, and the pastures,” Nash said. “This time, 4,000 homes were threatened by fire and none were damaged or destroyed.”

Fox Bender said the threat of wildfire is very real in California, just as floods and hurricanes threaten horses' safety in other parts of the country. Ultimately, cooperation within the equine community is key to survival, she said.

“People who live in the country have to be fiercely independent, but in a disaster situation everybody has to team up,” she said.

About the Author

Pat Raia

Pat Raia is a veteran journalist who enjoys covering equine welfare, industry, and news. In her spare time, she enjoys riding her Tennessee Walking Horse, Sonny.

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