I recently attended an Emergency Preparedness Clinic sponsored by several organizations within Boulder County, Colorado. The clinic was held because recent events here demonstrated that very, very few people have a disaster emergency plan. Are you one of those people?
Late last December, the Marshall Fire burned over six thousand acres and destroyed over a thousand homes in one afternoon. This devastating wildfire actually began as a grass fire, but grew to be the most destructive fire in the history of Colorado. Animal control officers, firefighters, search and rescue teams, and fairgrounds facility managers were suddenly overwhelmed by the need to evacuate livestock.
Because it was abundantly clear that very few people plan ahead for emergencies, the various organizations partnered together to hold this clinic and provide solid information about how to have a plan. I took notes and created several videos that incorporate their wisdom and suggestions. The first presenter was a retired firefighter who shared some thoughts about the fires of today versus what she faced years ago.
A firefighter’s perspective on today’s wildfires
“If anyone would have asked me if it was possible for this fire to grow more than a hundred thousand acres in one day, I would have laughed. Fires don’t grow that fast.”Grand Lake Fire Marshal Dan Mayer (Grand Lake suffered devastating losses to the East Troublesome fire)
The need for horse owners to have a disaster emergency plan
After the retired firefighter finished her presentation, the fairgrounds manager was the next to speak. He shared that, prior to the Marshall fire, he had assessed his facility and determined that he could reasonably accommodate about 450 horses. Over 800 horses were housed at the fairgrounds during the Marshall fire. The manager said they had horses (and other animals!) stashed everywhere on the property.
The focus of the presentation from the fairgrounds manager was the absolute need for horse owners to have a plan. He was direct in his comments that it was the horse owner’s responsibility to have a plan formulated in advance, and NOT to depend on animal control officers! He hoped that the clinic attendees would be prepared to get out during the pre-evacuation phase, and not find themselves unable to cross a fire line to retrieve their animals.
A pamphlet created by the Humane Society of the United States was available at the clinic. Under the heading, “Horses and Disasters” with a sub-heading of “Why Horse Owners Should Be Prepared”, it stated the following:
With an effective emergency plan, you may have enough time to move your horses to safety. If you are unprepared or wait until the last minute to evacuate, you could be told by emergency management officials that you must leave your horses behind. Once you leave your property, you have no way of knowing how long you will be kept out of the area. If left behind, your horses could be unattended for days without care, food, or water.
This is not my first rodeo when it comes to writing about wildfires, evacuations, or having a plan. In addition to the grass fire Alan and I experienced on our property in Arizona, we were in a pre-evacuation zone for the Cameron Peak fire in late 2020. We faced the same questions… leave or not leave? Now or tomorrow? We were not willing to risk our lives or the lives of our animals… and yet, I don’t think we fully comprehended the risk even then!
Identifying your horse BEFORE disaster strikes!
One thing we did have going for us… we had ID tags on the horses. In this post about the evacuation of Estes Park, I talk about how my horse friends in Estes literally had less than 30 minutes warning to evacuate. The sky was dark, fire was advancing from more than one direction, and traffic was insane. Two of the three roads out of Estes were closed due to fire! There would simply be no time to do anything but turn horses loose.
Following the presentation from the fairgrounds manager, another presenter talked about different ways of identifying your horses. After her brief presentation, I was given the microphone and the opportunity to discuss the latest version of ID MyHorse Emergency Information Tags. I was able to address how information-rich, nonflammable ID tags met the requirements put forth by the presenters.
More community education for Colorado residents
The Marshall fire really traumatized the residents, the fire departments, the animal control officers, the facility managers and everyone else impacted by the horrendous and incredibly fast destruction it left in its wake. In fact, it made such an impression on the community that additional clinics are being promoted to assist people with making a disaster emergency plan.
Code 3 Associates: Building Disaster Safe Communities for People & Pets
I strongly encourage you to check out the Code 3 Associates website and watch the video under the “About Us” tab. Suffice it to say that they know their stuff, and their goal is to encourage and assist people in taking the best care possible of their animals. As sponsors of this next Disaster Expo, they offer the following encouragement to people to come and learn how to make a disaster emergency plan:
We are a proud supporter of the Colorado Community Disaster Expo: Discover how to better prepare your family and those around you from the devastating effects of disasters. Join us in Golden, CO at the Jefferson County Fairgrounds on June 25, 2022 from 10am-4pm for this FREE community event. Watch emergency response demonstrations, learn from experts, participate in interactive activities, eat great food, and experience a day of family fun. Enjoy over 25 demonstrations and educational opportunities, learn about community resources, and interact with first responders and rescuers. Get your pets microchipped and vaccinated free of charge. Visit: https://code3associates.org/disaster-expo/ for more information. At the event please make sure and stop by and visit our booth. We can’t wait to see you there.
An agenda of safety and reunification
I understand that anyone reading a post I write about being prepared for an emergency can dismiss my words because I “have an agenda.” After all, I created a product and yes, I have a vested interest in that product. Why? Because I love my animals and I love my life and I want to do whatever I can do to keep trauma drama out of my life!
I have an agenda every time I see a Facebook post about a missing horse. I have an agenda every time I see a news story about horses turned loose during wildfires. I have an agenda when I read about 800 horses collected on community properties. My agenda is that horse and owner are reunited, as quickly and efficiently as possible! We have been putting embroidered collars or ID tags on our cats and dogs for decades. WHY do we not make similar safety preparations for our horses?
I have experienced more than one wildfire already! I was more ready than most when those sheriff’s department guys showed up at our door. However, after seeing how fast the Marshall fire blew up, did Alan and I really understand the danger? I’m not sure…
We have an RV parked in Fort Collins. We have a 2-horse trailer and truck ready to go at a moment’s notice. We absolutely could get out of here in a matter of minutes, with all of the critters in tow. We have a plan. What about you?
Do you have a trailer on your property? What is the trailer/horse ratio? Do all of the horses readily load into a trailer? If they don’t load well normally, how will they do with hot floating embers and intense heat? How will they react to your stress level being off-the-charts? Are you really planning on writing your phone number on that prancing hoof? Is there time for that?
Boarding facilities are an entirely different scenario. Is there a disaster plan? Do all of the boarders buy into it? Is there an index card written up for each horse, up-to-date and accessible?
One of the questions that was repeatedly asked at this clinic was, “Is there a master list somewhere in Boulder County of people with trailers who are willing to come and assist with equine evacuation?” One of the presenters responded that creating such a resource was on her “to-do list.” After the clinic, I referred her to the organization started by Sunny Parker in Arizona. Sunny has managed to connect the community and is able to mobilize dozens of trailers with a single SOS. Perhaps Colorado can duplicate what Sunny has managed to create…
I will close with some of the most powerful words I believe were uttered at the clinic:
- Climate change is real, and fires are far worse than they were in the past.
- Animal control should NOT be part of YOUR disaster emergency plan.
- YOU are responsible for having a plan in place for ALL of your animals.
- Having IDENTIFICATION ON YOUR HORSE is a huge help when it comes to matching horses and owners after the crisis, and in assuring that individual horses receive all of the special care they might require.
Coming soon… I will tell you about several incredible trail rides we have done around here, including the one where Sadie went down in the mud. It reminded me (and Alan watching it all unfold behind me) why we wear helmets and Hit-Air vests. I will probably write up our upcoming whitewater rafting trip down the Grand Canyon! Six nights sleeping under the stars…
In the meantime… MAKE A DISASTER EMERGENCY PLAN!!!