Fire In The Field, Fire In The Barn, Fire at The Neighbors, Fire on The Farm.

If you didn’t sing that title in your head with a country music twang, I might not be able to be your friend.  All over the news this week is the California wild fire.  “OMG, that race track video of those horses running around, so tragic.”  Agreed.  Unfortunately, no one is immune to wild fires, you may live in the highest spot in the world so you don’t have to worry about flooding but wild fires can get to just about everyone.  Here in the Houston Area, we had a wild fire break out on the NW side of town in the summer of 2011.  A few of my friends had to evacuate for weeks, it was terrible, they were lucky though, the fire did not come to them.

So wild fires are one thing, but then there are also barn fires.  These are devastating, and at least once a year I hear about one at some major farm.  I’m sure it happens at smaller barns all the time and they don’t make any news.

“That’s it, I am selling the farm and moving to a concrete apartment in the city, Fluffy Pony can go too and live in my living room, on the 3rd floor in case it floods too.”  Well, that’s one way of doing it, or you can prepare, plan, and prevent.  In the case of wild fires, there are many things you can do to make evacuation as smooth as possible, and you may not have a lot of time.

  • Work with your horses to ensure they can easily be haltered and loaded, do this now, don’t leave it until it is too late.
  • Keep a few essentials in your trailer, like buckets, hay nets with hay, a first aid kit.
  • Know all escape routes, fires in the area will close roads, make sure you know of alternate routes to get out.
  • Put dog tags with phone numbers and names on halters, preferably leather as they don’t melt like nylon, in case you have to throw your horse on any available trailer or turn them loose.
  • If you have to turn your horses loose, close stall and barn doors to keep them from getting trapped and open every gate possible including the one that lets them off your property, they have a better chance if they can run away from the fire.
  • Get your horse microchipped, a lot of show horses have to have these but it’s another way to help identify your horse if you get separated in the melee.
  • Set up a “call tree” that allows you to call 2 people, who then call 2 people who then call 2 more people, and so on.  This will allow you to get trucks and trailers lined up quickly without you spending hours on the phone.
  • Have “safe locations” set up.  Have names and numbers of safe places that you may be able to take the horses in the event of an emergency.  These can be large horse facilities, like show grounds or fair grounds, or maybe a friend in another town.  You can even delegate that task to someone on the call tree.

For barn fires, fast response is key.  We don’t have too many down here in Texas because our barns are metal so there is less to burn but here are a few ways to prevent fires

  • Make sure all water heaters bucket/trough etc. are in the correct receptacle and have cages as necessary.  If you have plastic troughs/buckets the heating element can melt the plastic and start a fire, so they must have cages and be properly installed
  • Don’t use indoor rated heaters, they are not wired for outdoors and the electrical components themselves can start a fire.
  • Set you barn electrical on GFCI outlets like in your house so they will trip, this can help prevent an electrical fire.  They must be properly installed and grounded to work, you can’t just replace the outlet itself.
  • Ensure you use outside rated extension cords.  Tie/zip tie/tape electrical cords up away from pony teeth.  Check them regularly for damage.
  • Tie extension cord plugs together, this keeps them from coming apart.
  • Be careful with dust, dust collecting on heaters and heat lamps themselves can catch fire so at least once a year(once a month during use is best but lets be real), clean off your heaters, preferably before you turn them on for the first time that year.
  • Store hay and shavings in a separate barn, these create dust that can start fires and they are flammable.  Under the very right conditions, or maybe they are the wrong conditions, these can combust on their own so storing them away from the barn is a good idea.
  • Don’t store paint, gasoline, or other fuels in the barn as these are flammable too.
  • Do not start bonfires or trash fires near the barn, the embers can be blown onto the barn, or they can travel through dry grass and catch the barn on fire.  Always babysit fires and keep a hose on and handy to help control the fire.
  • Keep a fire extinguisher in the barn, if the fire is small enough you may be able to put it out yourself.
  • And there is always the obvious, no smoking in the barn.

If your barn does catch fire:

  • CALL 911 FIRST!!!!!
  • You will want to run into the barn and start pulling horses but first of all you need to call 911 or have someone do it.  If for whatever reason you get stuck inside trying to pull horses out, you might have a chance of surviving.
  • Keep Emergency halters near the door that you can easily grab to catch and move horses.  You can make a bunch of these from old halters and short ropes.
  • Also keep long sleeved t-shirts near the door to use as a blind fold for upset/frightened horses, drape the body part of the shirt over their face and tie the arms under their cheeks to hold it in place.
  • When you pull a horse out of his stall, close the stall door behind you to keep him from running back in.
  • If you can get the horse out to a safe paddock close the horses in there, the tendency is for them to run back into the stall where they think it is “safe” so do anything you can do to keep them from going back.

DIY Emergency halter

  1. Get old nylon or leather halters, larger is better so that it will fit a variety of horses.  Have at least one per horse, so that you can pull the horse out and leave the halter and rope on them when you throw them out in the pasture or paddock.
  2. Cut the chin part out and the throat out, then either tie a rope through it so it looks like the halter pictured here or get those cheap cotton lead ropes that are really thin and string them through the one side and clip on the other.
  3. You can also use a grooming halter and just cut the chin out.
  4. Make sure the rope you use will move through the holes, if it’s a little tight it will help hold the nose area open while you try to put it on.
  5. If you keep the lead rope short, like 4′ then they are less likely to get tangled in them when they are walking around with a halter on, unsupervised.
  6. These are not the safest halters in the world but a few stitches to the face are better than the alternative.

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