Dozens of Horses Displaced by Smoky Mountain Wildfire

In the middle of a raging wildfire, Brian Minton drove his truck and horse trailer up a gravel road to transport a pony to safety. The trip was one of several Minton made evacuating horses from the wildfire sweeping through the Great Smoky Mountains and Sevier County, Tennessee, forcing evacuations at tourist destinations in Pigeon Force and Gatlinburg.

The Tennessee Emergency Management Agency's (TEMA) website indicates that wildfires fueled by the effects of a persistent drought developed in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park on Nov. 23. By Nov. 28, TEMA warned Sevier County residents to prepare evacuate. That evening, the so-called Chimney Top Fire forced mandatory evacuations for people in Sevier County, including tourist destinations Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge, home of the Dollywood resort and theme park. All told, more than 14,000 residents and visitors were expected to be evacuated from the Gatlinburg area alone, the website said.

Dollywood spokesman Pete Owens was unavailable to comment on where the 32 horses used by the park’s Dixie Stampede had been relocated ahead of the fire.

Meanwhile, at 6 p.m., on Monday, Minton began hauling horses out of the fire's path, mostly to destinations that the animals’ owners had previously arraigned. Each trip was complicated, Minton said.

“The power is out, phone service is out, and the roads are closed,” he said. “It's a mess”

In all, Minton transported more than 20 animals, including a pony used as a therapy horse for an autistic child.

“We drove up a gravel driveway with fire all around us to get that (pony),” Minton said.

He brought the animal to the Douglas Lakeview Stables in Sevierville, Tennessee, where Kristie Horner, who is coordinating housing for evacuated horses at the stable, awaited a visit from the veterinarian who would evaluate the pony's condition.

“We know she has had some smoke inhalation and some burns to her mouth, but we'll see what else,” she said. “Right now, we're concentrating on keeping her safe,”

Horner said the stable is ready to accept additional horses and other livestock displaced by the fire.

“We've even got places for exotic animals,” she said.

Even so, just how many horses reside in the fire affected area is unknown, said Sandra Harbison, of the University of Tennessee (UT) College of Veterinary Medicine. And whether those horses will require treatment at the UT also remains to be seen.

“It is pretty mountainous terrain so (we’re) uncertain how many horses are there,” Harbison said. “We have not seen horses being brought here yet, but that may happen once people are able to go back to their property.”

In the meantime, TEMA crews along with firefighters, law enforcement and state Department of Agriculture (TDA) personnel are either battling the blaze or assessing the damage left behind.

“We have folks out there now doing evaluations,” said Corinne Gould, assistant TDA commissioner.

Whatever those assessments reveal, Horner believes the disaster should remind horse owners that they need to establish an evacuation plan for their animals.

She said a good evacuation plan means making arrangements with other property owners who are willing to accommodate displaced horses. Owners should either make arrangement for animals' transportation or have their own trailers stocked with hay, feed, and copies of veterinary and ownership records. But most of all, she said, ensuring horses halter and load easily is critical.

“Even if you can run them in to a trailer you can get them out of there,” Horner said. “We're the furthest from the fire and we've even got a plan to get the animals out of here if we had to.”

Those who require help relocating their horses or are in need of a relocation site can call their local emergency response authorities or Horner at 864/671-8439.

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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