Updated: May 4
Summer is upon us, as is the threat of wildfires. Are you and your horse prepared? The approach of summer brings the busy to a horse barn. It is a time to go riding with friends, see the sights with our equine companions, bring in the next years hay crop, and make improvements around the barn. It is a season full of fun and hard work. However, summer also means the start of wildfire season, which typically lasts into October for the Pacific Northwest. Is your equine facility protected from the threat of wildfires?
Many horse facilities are surrounded by forest or grassland, increasing their risk of being affected by wildfires. It is crucial to develop defensible space around barns and buildings. Plants within 30 feet of buildings should be kept to a minimum, small in size, and watered to stay green. Lawns or pastures should be kept mowed and green, as they make great fine fuels for fire when dry. Plants should not come in contact with buildings, as this increases the risk of fire spreading from the vegetation to the structure. Any dead plant material should be removed and rain gutters should be free of debris, which is easily ignited when exposed to fire embers.
It is ideal if combustible materials such as hay, bedding, and any equipment be stored in a separate building from the horses. The buildings should be free of cobwebs, dust, and excess hay products. Hay should be stored in an area where it will remain free of moisture. When putting hay in the barn from the field it is important to pay attention to temperature and moisture levels inside of the bales. Bales with too high of moisture content have the potential to reach temperatures above 200 degrees and can internally combust. The best way to avoid hay fires is to make sure the hay is at the appropriate moisture level of 15 to 18 percent and to prevent extra moisture within the hay. Salt can be applied between levels of the hay stack if moisture levels are a concern. Water sources are vital at equine facilities and an easily accessible source could save your barn. Swimming pools, ponds, lakes, and even a manure lagoon make great resources for fire suppression. A fire hydrant is a reliable source, however, having hoses that can reach all building will help catch a fire early on if one does begin. Having a fire extinguisher in all building is a great idea. It is best to be prepared for a wildfire, even if they are not common in your area. An evacuation plan should be established and everyone in the barn should know how to follow through with the plan. There should be a designated area to move horses to that is as far away from the barn as possible and a way to transport the horses, if needed. If you are unable to evacuate the horse(s) you should put some form of contact information on them. This can be done by using a livestock crayon and drawing your name, number, and address on the horse, clipping this information into their coat, braiding a pre-made tag into their mane, or attaching a neck tag. The horses should then be set free and stall/barn doors closed to reduce likelihood of the horse returning to them while on fire. Wildfires are unpredictable, but preparing your horse, facility, and those that use it will help tremendously. Click here to view a link to an evacuation checklist to help you and your horse be prepared. Written by Hayley Hoefer