Colorado Fires Cause Evacuation

Equine evacuation plans were put to the test in Colorado when the Overland Fire in canyons northwest of Boulder grew so quickly that within just a few hours, 3,500 acres were engulfed and indefensible. The fire started early on Oct. 29 near Jamestown, Colo., and spread east. By Oct. 30, wet weather and crews had extinguished the fire.

Officials from the Boulder County Sheriff's Office animal control department and area barn managers estimated between 350 and 400 horses were at risk; 60 were evacuated to the nearby county fairgrounds.

After the Hayman Fire of 2001, Boulder County animal control officer Terri Snyder wrote an evacuation plan to identify a network of volunteers with trucks and trailers to haul horses to the fairgrounds. Her two chief resources were the Boulder County Horseman's Association ( and the county's mounted search and rescue squads.

"This is the first time we've had to use it," Snyder said of the plan, adding that spotty cell phone coverage in the mountains made reaching stand-by volunteers difficult.

No horses were lost in the fire, Snyder said.

Julie Barringer-Richers, of Autumn Hill International Equestrian Center in Longmont, implemented the evacuation plan she'd created for 43 horses within five minutes after 70 mph winds caused the fire to shift suddenly.

"Within 10 minutes we had one trailer with five horses going out," she said.

Barringer-Richers said the evacuation went smoothly because of advance preparation that included constant communication with owners, neighboring barns, and the evacuation destination; using a master list to check out horses as they loaded; having sufficient access to and egress from the barn; and prioritizing volunteers' tasks (load horses, then hay and tack).

Earlier, she had required boarders to attach two sets of dog tags to the halter: One with the horse's name, owner's name and phone number; the other with the horse's name, barn name, and phone number.

She also stationed herself in a central location to be visible and accessible. She said she created a calling tree to mobilize immediate help, which had detailed information about truck and or trailer availability, and she urged trailer owners to keep them in good working order and the partitions in place. She said she plans to create an index of more detailed information to include the specifications, hitch ball size, and license plate number.

She also watched out for owners having difficulty loading their horses, stepping in if they couldn't load the horse after three attempts, to avoid increasing the horse's anxiety.

"Slant load trailers saved the day every time," she said.

About the Author

Meg Cicciarella

Meg Cicciarella is a freelance journalist who lives and writes in Homer, on Alaska's banana belt, the Kenai Peninsula. Her articles have appeared in local, regional, and national newspapers and magazines.

Stay on top of the most recent Horse Health news with FREE weekly newsletters from Learn More

Free Newsletters

Sign up for the latest in:

From our partners