When faced with a wildfire like the the Little Sand Fire, do you know the appropriate steps to protect your home? Will you be prepared when enforcement officials ask you to evacuate with little warning? Even if you are forced to evacuate your home, did you know there are things you can do to help firefighters defend it? Taking preventative measured today could spell the difference between your property’s destruction or survival from wildfire.
Protection in rural areas
Colorado’s rural areas are undergoing increasingly greater development. More people are building homes in forests or brushlands.
Often, these sites are quite remote. However, people moving from urban settings expect traditional fire and emergency services. They do not understand the fire protection limitations that exist in rural areas:
• Most rural fire departments are dependent upon trained volunteers. The number of firefighters able to respond may be limited during the traditional work week.
• Response time may be quite long. Volunteers must reach the fire station from home or work, start the fire vehicles and drive to the fire scene. The fire scene may be quite far from the station.
• Water supplies and firefighting equipment are limited. Often, the only significant water supply is that which the fire trucks themselves carry. Water shuttles or refill locations must be established and coordinated.
• Approaching the fire scene may be difficult. Narrow, steep roads and driveways may limit or even prevent access by emergency equipment. Bridges may have weight limitations that prevent large trucks and tankers from reaching the fire.
When wildfire does strike, it can occur with little warning and spread quickly. There may simply not be enough personnel and equipment to defend every home.
Homeowners can do a great deal to prepare their property for wildfire. The following checklist and guidelines will help you prepare for fire safety, evacuation and home defense. Use it as a guide to enhance home site safety.
Safety checklist points:
• Thin tree and brush cover.
• Dispose of slash and debris left from thinning.
• Remove dead limbs, leaves and other litter.
• Stack firewood away from home.
• Maintain irrigated greenbelt.
• Mow dry grass and weeds.
• Prune branches to 10 feet above the ground.
• Trim branches.
• Clean roof and gutters.
• Reduce density of surrounding forest.
Annual fire safety checklist:
• Thin trees and brush properly within the defensible space.
• Remove trash and debris from the defensible space.
• Remove any trees growing through the porch.
• Clear roof and gutters of leaves and debris.
• Remove branches overhanging chimney and roof.
• Stack firewood uphill or on a contour away from the home.
• Use noncombustible roof materials.
• Place shutters, fire curtains or heavy drapes on windows.
• Place screens on foundation and eave vents.
• Enclose sides of stilt foundations and decks.
• Use a chimney screen or spark arrester.
• Clear vegetation around fire hydrants, cisterns, propane tanks, etc.
• Make sure an outdoor water supply is available with hose, nozzle and pump.
• Make sure fire tools, ladder and fire extinguishers are available.
• Post address signs that are clearly visible from the street or road.
• Make sure the driveway is wide enough for fire trucks and equipment.
• Post load limits on bridges.
• Install and test smoke detectors.
• Practice a family fire drill and evacuation plan.
• If a wildfire is threatening your area, listen to your radio for updated reports and evacuation information.
• Confine pets to one room and make plans to take care of them in the event of evacuation.
• Arrange for temporary housing with a friend or relative whose home is outside the threatened area. Leave a note in a prominent place in your home that says where and how you can be contacted.
• If your home is threatened by wildfire, you will be contacted and advised by law enforcement officers to evacuate. If you are not contacted, or you decide to stay and help defend your home, evacuate pets and any family members not needed to protect your home.
• Remove important documents, mementos, etc. from the possible fire area.
• When evacuating, wear protective clothing: sturdy shoes, cotton or woolen clothing, long pants, a long-sleeved shirt, gloves, and a handkerchief to protect your face.
• Choose a route away from the fire, if possible. Watch for changes in the speed and direction of the fire and smoke.
• Take a disaster supply kit containing: A supply of drinking water; one change of clothing and footwear for each member of the family; blanket or sleeping bag for each person; first aid kit that also includes any prescription medications; emergency tools including a battery-powered radio, flashlight and extra batteries; An extra set of car keys and credit cards, cash or traveler’s checks; and extra pairs of eyeglasses and other special items for infant, elderly or disabled family members.
Defending your home
Complete as many of the following preparations as possible to defend your home in case of a fire.
• Do not jeopardize your life. No material item is worth a life.
• Wear fire-resistant clothing and protective gear.
• Remove combustible materials from around structures.
• Close or cover outside vents and shutters.
• Position garden hoses so they reach the entire house. Have the hoses charged, with an adjustable nozzle, but turned off.
• Place large, full water containers around the house. Soak burlap sacks, small rugs or large rags in the containers.
• Place a ladder against the roof of the house on the opposite side of the approaching wildfire. Place a garden hose near the ladder, prepared as described previously.
• Place portable pumps near available water supplies, such as pools, hot tubs, creeks, etc.
• Close all windows and doors. Do not lock them.
• Close all inside doors.
• Turn on a light in each room and all outside lights.
• Leave indoor and outdoor lights on even during daylight hours.
• Fill tubs, sinks and any other containers with water.
• Shut off the gas at the outside meter of the propane tank.
• Remove lace, nylon or any other drapes and curtains made from light material. Close Venetian blinds, heavy drapes or fire-resistant window coverings.
• Move overstuffed furniture into the center of the house, away from windows and sliding glass doors.
• Park your car in the garage, facing out. Close the windows, but do not lock the doors. Leave the keys in the ignition.
• Close the garage door, but leave it unlocked.
• Disconnect the automatic garage door opener.
For additional information on mitigating wildfire hazards on your property, go to csfs.colostate.edu/wildfire.html. Information provided by F. C. Dennis, Staff Forester (retired), Colorado State Forest Service. FIREWISE is a multi-agency program that encourages the development of defensible space and the prevention of catastrophic wildfire.
A series of free FIREWISE factsheets are available at the Archuleta County Extension office.
Wildfire preparedness for horse owners
If you have horses and you live in a high-risk area for a wildfire, are you prepared to protect your horses? They need your help and planning. First, you have to assess your risk. Consider your location and your local situation. Knowing your risk will help you prepare your plan.
Having a plan and implementing that plan are the greatest factors in limiting your losses. With horses, we are not only speaking of a monetary loss, but also the emotional loss, which is impossible to calculate in dollars and cents. Your plan needs to be communicated to everyone who is living with you or to anyone who will be taking care of your place in your absence.
When considering the potential hazard of wildfires, an evacuation plan of yourself and your horse(s) is a major part of being prepared. You cannot wait until you see smoke or fire to make the decision to evacuate and determine your evacuation route(s). And you cannot simply turn your horses loose and rely on their natural instinct to figure out for themselves where they can flee to safety. They need your help to survive a wildfire. However, in some situations where you cannot evacuate your horses according to plan and there is imminent danger to you and your horses, it is better to turn your horses loose instead of leaving them confined to a barn or pasture.
To plan your evacuation route, contact your local emergency management officials, your county law enforcement officials, or your local animal control officers to find out what they recommend and what procedures they have in place for disasters. Make plans for more than one evacuation route in case the wildfire cuts off one of your exits. Prioritize the routes if you have the choice. Drive all the evacuation routes with your horse trailer. The exit routes must pass the questions of: Can I get out with my size of trailer?; Is it passable in all weather conditions?; and, what if there was flooding and a wildfire at the same time — how would the routes be affected? In some areas, you can have wildfires raging at the same time that flooding is occurring.
Beware of dangerous fire conditions in your area and know how to find information on potential conditions or situations.
Have your trailer in good condition and available to hitch up and load at any time. Keep a full tank of gas in the vehicle that you will use for towing the horse trailer. If you do not trailer your horse often or if you do not own a trailer, work with your horses to get them trained to load easily. Make it a goal to be able to load them by only one handler so that they can be loaded quickly and easily. If you do not own a trailer, contact a neighbor who does and find out if he or she would be willing to help you evacuate your horse. It’s good practice to load your horse in the trailer you will be using to evacuate.
Team up with a neighbor
Develop a team plan with a neighbor. This may help in the joint use of resources, such as a trailer and supplies. It also helps to outline a joint plan. Inform each other in the case of an evacuation. Working as a team, you will be able to efficiently evacuate in a shorter amount of time.
Horse ID packet
Being able to identify your horse is important in large-scale emergencies where horses could be housed at the fairgrounds or large boarding facilities. It is also essential in situations when you are not at home to evacuate and your horses are hauled to a collecting facility or maybe were simply turned loose. Identification papers enable you to claim your horse more quickly. It also prevents someone else from falsely claiming your horse. In most cases of a major disaster, documentation of ownership will be required to claim a lost horse.
In situations where your horse has been lost, the legal entity in most communities to work with is the animal control agency, and it is usually under the law enforcement division of that county. In Colorado, most livestock identification and ownership issues are under the jurisdiction of the Colorado Division of Brands, part of the Colorado Department of Agriculture.
It is important to note that, in Colorado, brand inspection is required for horses any time an animal is sold, transported over 75 miles or leaves the state. Even if your horse does not have a brand, a brand inspection is required. A permanent travel card may be obtained from your local inspector that eliminates the need for future brand inspections for movement of your horse. In addition, “any time livestock is to be transported on a public road, proof of ownership of the stock being transported must be available for inspection by the Colorado State Patrol, local law enforcement, or a livestock inspector. If the animal carries your Colorado brand, this can be your proof of ownership. Failure to show proof of title is a misdemeanor.” (C.R.S.35-53-117, Colorado Dept. of Agriculture, Brand Inspection Board website) You can see that having a permanent travel card or brand papers will aid in claiming your horse and in meeting brand laws concerning movement of horses.
Horse identification is accomplished by microchip, brands, pictures, unique markings, registration papers, brand papers, or by a combination of the above. Make a packet on each of your horses and have it readily available to grab and load with your horse in case of emergency. Also in that packet you can file your health certificates, brand paperwork, vaccination records and other health information. If you put all of your paperwork in one small portable file container it can be quickly located and loaded in case of an emergency.
Equine first-aid kit
An equine first-aid kit is essential for all horse owners to have in the barn or trailer. A well-stocked first-aid kit kept in the barn will always be available when the trailer is loaded with tack and supplies. A general kit that is routinely updated can be used for emergencies like wounds, colic, foot injuries or other trauma, and then be available for an evacuation in case of some type of disaster.
If possible, clearly label all horse medication and keep it in an appropriate container that can be quickly located and loaded in emergencies.
Prioritize a list of tack to take during an evacuation. With a list, you are more efficient and do not have to take time to plan or decide what to take. The most important tack to remember are ropes and halters (leather or rope halters are preferred because nylon halters can get too hot if the horse gets too close to a fire). Include a water bucket on your tack list. Prepare neck bands for your horses that have your contact information written on them. These neck bands would only be used in an emergency evacuation in which you only have time to turn your horses loose. Another option is to create an identity halter that has a metal or brass plate riveted to a leather halter. You can have metal dog tags made for this purpose. Briefcase identification tags also work well when filled out and kept in the tack room for quickly attaching to halters. Of course, these items should be prepared ahead of time.
It cannot be overstated about making arrangements for the boarding of your horses at an outside facility. In the case of a major disaster, the county fairgrounds may be the appointed shelter for livestock, horses, pets, and maybe even displaced people. You can also make plans with friends who have equine facilities that are located out of harm’s way. Or you could use a large commercial boarding facility. The important point is to have a place lined up to take your evacuated horse. Write down your arrangements and the list of your contact people, stick it on a clipboard and hang it in the barn.
It is best to have an outside contact who lives in a different area to be the clearinghouse for calls from your family and friends. You can make contact with the clearinghouse by whatever means possible and then they can relay information to others. By appointing a contact who lives outside of your area, they are less likely to be affected by your area’s possible failures of infrastructure and communications. Other family members from around the country can check in with them to get an update on your condition. Your contact can relay messages from you to them or vice versa.
In a disaster situation, you will be very busy with evacuation and may not be able to be reached due to failures of communication lines or cell towers. Place these contact numbers on another clipboard in the barn. You can also use this contact list clipboard for other important phone numbers, such as your veterinarian or sheriff. Another place to post your contacts is in your cell phone address list, but it is best to have a written form available in the barn, too. If first responders come to your place and you are not home, the contact clipboard will provide valuable information to them.
Once you have made your plan, you need to prioritize it. This helps you during an actual emergency or helps others in the event that you are not home at the time. Even though it is hard to think about, priority is given to people over horses. Always keep human safety as your primary guiding principle. Maybe you only have a two-horse trailer and you have five horses; a priority list must be made. Or maybe you have limited time because of a rapidly advancing fire, so priorities must be made on what you will have time to do. You can also keep this list on your contact list clipboard in the barn.
In an actual emergency
First and foremost, the safety of you and your family should be priority number one! That cannot be emphasized enough. If you get word that your area is being evacuated, start the process immediately. Wildfires are very unpredictable and can spread rapidly. As soon as you get word of a forced evacuation, begin to implement your evacuation plan, as sometimes the loading of horses and other necessary items will take longer than you expect. This is especially important if you have many horses to evacuate. Make contact with your neighbor if you are working as a team and get in touch with your outside contact to give them your updated status.
If the fire is close and you are unable to get your horses out, do not leave them confined. After getting them out of the barn or pasture, close the doors or gates, as horses in danger will often seek the comfort of the known-their pastures and stalls. Also keep in mind that your horse in the face of danger may not react to you the same as they usually do. Use caution as their instincts may take over and they may be in flight-or-fight mode. If possible, have someone help you handle the horses.
If you have not had your horses permanently identified in some way, paint your cell phone number or the last four digits of your social security number on the horse. Place your identity halter on your horse (if you’ve prepared it ahead of time). If you only have nylon halters, remove them because if your horses get too close to an actual fire, the nylon halters get hot and could cause further skin damage. If you have time, try to lead your horses away from the buildings before releasing them to encourage them to move away from the buildings and the impending fire.
Evacuation checklist: Horse(s); paperwork (health certificates, vaccination records, brand paperwork); first-aid kit; horse medication(s), if applicable; ropes; leather halter(s); water bucket; identity halter/tag; boarding arrangement list; contact list; and priority list.
Preparing a plan is the most important element in the preparation for the wildfire season. Remember to:
• Practice the plan.
• Place people’s safety first — that includes your own!
• Colorado Community Animal Response Training: Distributed by Colorado State Animal Response Team, a program of the Colorado Veterinary Medical Foundation.
• American Association of Equine Practitioners; Horse Health Education: Disaster Preparedness.
• Colorado Department of Agriculture Brand Inspection Board Web Page: When to get an Inspection. (2008). Retrieved June 19, 2008, from www.colorado.gov/cs/Satellite/Agriculture-Main/CDAG/1176829158611.
• FEMA Emergency Management Institute’s Course #IS-10, Animals in Disaster, Module A: Awareness and Preparedness. http://training.fema.gov/EMIWeb/downloads/is10comp.pdf
Information provided by Dr. N. Striegel, D.V.M, Colorado State University Extension 4-H and livestock agent, Boulder County. Colorado State University, U.S. Department of Agriculture, and Colorado counties cooperating. CSU Extension programs are available to all without discrimination. No endorsement of products mentioned is intended nor is criticism implied of products not mentioned.
June 7 — Shady Pine 4-H Club 6:30 p.m.
June 8 — Wolf Creek Wonders 4-H Club 2 p.m.
June 8 — 4-H Dog Agility Project meeting 3 p.m.
June 8 — 4-H Rabbit Project meeting 4 p.m.
June 9 — 4-H Open Rabbit Show & Judging Meet 8 a.m.
June 11 — Back to Basic Food Preservation — Vegetables 1 p.m. and 6 p.m.
June 11 — 4-H Rocketry Project meeting 3 p.m.
June 11 — 4-H Lamb Project meeting 4:30 p.m.
June 11 — 4-H Goat Project meeting 5:30 p.m.
June 12 — 4-H Scrapbooking Project meeting 1:30 p.m.
June 12 — 4-H Rocky Mountain Riders Club 6 p.m.
June 13 — 4-H Sport Fishing Project meeting 4 p.m.
June 13 — Pagosa Peaks 4-H Club 6:30 p.m.
June 14 — Mountain View Homemakers noon
June 14 — 4-H Leader meeting 6 p.m.
Check out our webpage at www.archuleta.colostate.edu for calendar events and info.