Prepare to Evacuate Horses!
By Eleanor Blazer
"Do you smell smoke?"
That simple question from my husband started a very intense day.
We live in southern Texas and have not had substantial rainfall for more than 18 months. The wind was coming from the south and there was a brush fire at Camp Bullis Military Training Reservation, south of us.
Looking from the back of our ranch, across the neighboring ranch's pasture, we could see the smoke. The fire was between two hills, so the flames were not visible. As time passed the area of smoke became wider. It grew to be more than two miles wide.
The sheriff's department set up an observation point at the end of our road. Neighbors were checking as the officers monitored the fire. Everyone was in contact via cell phones, concerned with how we would get our horses out.
At noon we were told to prepare to evacuate. Ground crews were not able to get the fire under control and air support had been requested, but it would take time for them to arrive. The fire was spreading and moving fast.
Now was the time our preparations for an emergency would pay off.
All of our horses are trained to load without a fuss, so they were of no concern.
Health and registration papers for all the animals are in a folder and easily located.
Our trailer and truck are always ready to go. Tires, lights and brakes are serviced regularly. Extra halters, leads, buckets and medical supplies are always packed.
Packed and Ready To Go
I called a friend who has extra pens and informed her we may be arriving with the horses. I also made arrangements with her in case we had to evacuate a neighbor's two ponies and small herd of goats.
Karla, who owns one of the horses at our ranch, arrived to help haul horses. She loaded hay, grain and the tack we wanted to take (saddles, bridles and grooming equipment).
I packed the external hard drives that back up our computer files. I also packed enough clothes and personal items for several days. The cats were rounded up and secured in a room, so I wouldn't have to look for them later.
Don got the trailers hooked up. He also got the cat carriers by the door and the dog and cat supplies loaded. He made sure the house and barn were secure. Don left contact information in the barn and house, so we could be reached.
Within half an hour of being told to prepare to evacuate we were ready to load the horses and leave.
Luckily air support arrived in time.
We spent the afternoon watching the Blackhawk helicopters and fixed winged air craft drop water and fire retardant chemicals on the fire. A forestry airplane did continuous circles informing ground crews where to fight the fire, alerting them to hot spots and keeping our local sheriff's department informed on the progress.
Blackhawk Helicopter Dropping Water
By 5:00 P.M. the fire was out and the "prepare to evacuate order" lifted. The fire fighters continued to monitor the area all night - as we did.
It's not good to take the "it will never happen to me" attitude when preparing for an emergency. A few simple steps will make an evacuation run smooth.
1. Train your horses to load. Trying to load an untrained horse when stress is high can be dangerous and time consuming.
2. Be able to identify your horses. Take pictures or videos and have written descriptions. Store one set in a safe place (a safe deposit box at a bank is one option) and keep another set with you.
3. If your horse is going to a community rescue site or there is a chance he will become loose have some type of identification on the horse. An identification tag on the halter will work, but microchips, brands or tattoos are more permanent. Be sure your emergency contact information is included on the ID tag.
4. Make sure your truck and trailer are in good working order and packed with needed supplies. Do not use your trailer as a storage unit. If you do not own a trailer, make advance arrangements with several friends or a local hauler who can be contacted at a moment's notice. Don't wait until the emergency to start looking for a way to move your horses.
5. Make sure all health records and registrations papers are in one location and can be moved quickly.
6. Make advance arrangements with several friends who have room for your horses. If this is not possible contact your local fairgrounds or horse facilities to find out their policies for accepting horses during an emergency - have several options available.
7. Know the various routes to the facility to which you are taking the horses. A road may be closed, so have an alternate route in mind.
8. Assign duties, in advance, to the various people who will be helping evacuate the horses. If people know what is expected, things will go smoothly.
9. Leave your contact information in several conspicuous places in your barn, office or house.
10. In the event you are not at home, make arrangements with several friends or neighbors so they can evacuate your horses. Go over your plans and have the information available to them. Keep it up-dated.
11. Pack enough hay, feed, medications, supplements and water (if needed) for several days. Extra buckets should be already packed in the trailer.
12. If you are going to have to make several trips, don't wait until the last evacuate order is issued. Start moving animals out early and give yourself enough time. It is possible if you wait too long, you will not be allowed back in. Use common sense.
13. Don't forget to have an emergency bag packed and ready with your personal items.
14. Prepare a list of important documents you will need and have them readily available. These items would include credit cards, bank account information, health insurance cards and check books.
We've been told several times we were lucky - and we were. But, you can make your own good luck by being prepared. It can happen to you…please be ready.