Florida Wildfire Displaces More Than 100 Horses

More than 100 horses were displaced when wildfires swept through a Florida neighborhood last week.

On March 8, Lynn Switzer, operator of the Everglades Ranch, in Naples, Florida, saw a plume of smoke rising from the far side of the Picayune State Forest behind her farm.

Just after Switzer made a 911 emergency call, firefighters began battling the blaze that would grow to consume an estimated 6,000 acres; blacken the skies over Naples and Fort Myers; and close a segment of US I-75 known as Alligator Alley.

As the flames advanced, Collier County fire authorities issued a mandatory evacuation order for Switzer and other Naples barn operators in the blaze's projected path.

“I asked the firefighters for six hours to get out, and they just laughed,” Switzer said. “But we did have time to get our horses out.”

Switzer said that with an hour, she and others evacuated thanks to help from the area's equestrian community.

“The Naples horse community was incredible,” Switzer said. “Anyone who had room in pastures or stalls came with trailers and helped move the horses.”

All told, Switzer evacuated 28 horses from her property. Horses from other farms nearby were also moved safely outside the fire zone.

“A property just down the road had four or five barns and 100 horses,” she said. “They all got out.”

Switzer credits firefighting teams for their rapid response and for making sure the fire spared barns and other buildings near the fire's path.

“Not a single property was burned,” she said.

Switzer said wildfires can strike in state parks and other forested areas any time of year, but the blazes are more likely to erupt in summer when lightning strikes ignite dry foliage.

“So because of our location near the Picayune State Forest we have to be prepared,” she said. “Fortunately, many of firefighters are also horse people so they know how to respond.”

According to Florida fire authorities, this particular fire appears to be human-caused. Whether it was set deliberately remains under investigation.

Meanwhile, Switzer said she’s pleased that she and all her neighbors were able to relocate their animals. She plans to bring hers home sometime during the weekend.

“I want the air quality to get a little better before I bring them back,” Switzer said. “Besides, the mares are in a big field running and playing with their friends--they think they're on vacation.”  

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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