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Lessons in Rapid Horse Evacuation

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San Luis Rey Fire evacuation, from Luis Tapia video.The San Luis Rey Downs fire last year in San Diego’s North County was a terrible reminder of how fast Santa Ana wildfires move and how little time people have to evacuate.

Embers from a brushfire had blown into a canyon a few hundred yards from the training center. “Once the fire started in the canyon, you could see the flames and black smoke raging throughout the area,” said Dr. Chuck Jenkins, veterinarian at the facility that day. “And when the Santa Ana winds accelerated from 20 mph to 50 to 60 mph, things quickly got worse. When the fire got on the grounds, it moved so fast that in one barn, 15 of the 40 horses didn’t make it out of their stalls,” said Jenkins. (Veterinary News)

Last year 75 horses died in California wildfires.

  • Creek Fire, Rancho Padilla, Sylmar: 29 horses
  • Lilac Fire at San Luis Rey Downs training center, San Diego: 46 horses

The nonprofit Equestrian Trails Inc. provided Northern California horse owners with evacuation tips last week.

“The speaker, Vicky Beelik, serves as Ventura County’s emergency volunteer rescue team coordinator for the evacuation of horses and other livestock, working directly with the Department of Animal Services during emergencies. Her own three horses had to be evacuated from Santa Paula to the county fairgrounds during the Thomas Fire.” (Malibu Times)

Beelik’s tips included:

  • During a wildfire, evacuate horses as soon as voluntary evacuations are announced.
  • If a road has been closed, the fire is close and you may be too late. As soon as you see or smell smoke, pack up and leave.

Prior to evacuation notice:

  • Get the horse ready (do not sedate the horse).
  • Hook the trailer to the truck.
  • Have identification on the horse (microchip them in advance).
  • List any medical conditions and order of priority for evacuation.
  • Load the alpha horse(s) onto the trailer first. The rest will follow.
  • Have a list of contacts familiar with the stables in case you aren’t nearby during the emergency. Have their contact information.
  • Keep form photos on your phone.
  • Keep horse photos on your phone.
  • Have a horse a grab bag:
    • Medical lists
    • Medical kits with extra medicine
    • Emergency food
    • Clothes
    • Owners portfolios
    • Checklists for what to keep in each bag.
  • Halters, lead lines, etc. should be well organized and easy to grab.
  • Practice evacuation.  “Planning doesn’t help if the horse isn’t prepared,” Beelik stated. “…plan ‘trailer training days’ at each other’s’ properties and practice getting your horses on and off different trailers.”

Read more in Malibu Times.