Horse Owners Urged to Prepare for Active Wildfire Season

While firefighters work to contain a massive wildfire in New Mexico, the blaze has forced few horse evacuations, according to agricultural authorities in that state. But national authorities believe 2012 could see an increase in wildfire frequency and have cautioned horse owners to prepare for fires before they occur.

On May 16, wildfires erupted in the Gila National Forest near Glenwood. By June 1, the blaze had burned 216,650 acres and was just 10% contained. New Mexico Department of Agriculture spokeswoman Katie Goetz said that despite the size of the fire, the village of Mogollon was the only town evacuated so far.

"It's a very small village of only about 15 or 20 people, and the one family that did have a horse was able to relocated to a family member's property out of the fire zone," Goetz said.

A total of 40 horses residing in pastures on two separate ranches were also safely transported to locations outside the fire zone, Goetz said.

The New Mexico blaze is indicative of the active wildfire season predicted by the National Interagency Fire Center (NIFC), an organization that works with state and local agencies to establish wildfire preparedness plans. Thanks to dry conditions and warm temperatures, the agency predicts services an above normal significant wildfire potential in western and southwestern regions through September. Some fires in those regions could necessitate human and animal evacuation, said NIFC spokeswoman Robyn Broyles.

"Mandatory evacuation and other wildfire-connected orders are issued by local law enforcement departments," Broyles said. "So first people should know who to talk to and who to get news from about evacuations, then they need to know where they're going to go in case of evacuation and what they're going to do with their livestock."

These "know-before-you-go" plans should include identifying specific routes out of the fire zone and making advance arrangements to place evacuated horses with friends, family members, or others whose properties are located well away from the fire.

Owners who cannot evacuate their animals should prepare for them to take "shelter in place," according to firefighter Gina Gonzales, of the Loveland Fire Rescue in Loveland, Colo., and an assistant instructor for The Large Animal Emergency Rescue Inc.

Gonzales advises owners to stock enough food and water to accommodate their horses for five to seven days. She also recommends that owners relocate horses from barns to paddocks, even if barns are equipped with sprinkler systems. In the event horses become separated from their properties, owners should use indelible marker to write contact information on their horses' hooves or on duct tape placed on the horse's neck. Owners who evacuate should take with them a packet containing information about their horse, including photographs. Finally, she recommends owners place signs on their fences advising firefighters and other local authorities that animals remain on the property.

Finally, Broyles recommends that owners who reside in wildfire prone areas create "defensible spaces" around their properties. Defensible spaces are 100-foot perimeters that surround bans, 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 emanating from wildfires. Livestock left on the property should be placed within this defensible space.

Owners who have created defensible spaces on their properties should also maintain these spaces, Broyles said.

"Landscaping doesn't always take defensible spaces into account, but trees and other plants that grow have to be trimmed," she said.

Disclaimer: Seek the advice of a qualified veterinarian before proceeding with any diagnosis, treatment, or therapy.

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