wildfire losses; wildfire, wildfire tips for horse owners

As of Aug. 6, wildfires have ravaged more than 2.2 million acres of land in the United States and more than 4.8 million Americans have contracted COVID-19 as the pandemic—and the flames—continue to spread.

Fires such as the Apple Fire in California and the recently contained Bighorn Fire in Arizona led to evacuations of people and livestock, which raises the question: How do you evacuate your horse safely during a pandemic?

Technical Large Animal Emergency Rescue President Rebecca Husted, PhD, and Rebecca McConnico, DVM, PhD, Dipl. ACVIM, a professor at Louisiana Tech University, recommend owners develop an evacuation plan before they need it. That is especially true during a pandemic.

In addition to following standard evacuation protocols, such as leaving your truck fueled and trailer hooked up, start by taking extra pandemic measures in the barn. Personal protection equipment, or PPE, has become part of everyone’s lives, and it’s a good idea to keep extra masks in your disaster or first-aid kit where you and others can access them easily.

“In the midst of chaos—a wildfire or tornado or whatever—you know, you forget,” McConnico said, recommending that the PPE you choose fit well and be appropriate for handling a horse. “If you’re wearing a face mask and goggles and you can’t see, you’re going to get hurt. So you’ve got to figure out a way to make it work to where you can still function as efficiently as you can in a disaster.”

McConnico and Husted recommend keeping extra cleaning supplies—especially those that kill the SARS-CoV-2 virus—in your disaster kit, as well.

Next, evaluate your evacuation route and destination. Husted recommends having a backup plan in place, because the pandemic has resulted in the closure of many equestrian facilities and fairgrounds.

“Places that normally may have been open may be closed,” Husted said, adding that is especially true of any government-run facilities that might not be willing to take on the extra risk of opening a large-animal shelter during a pandemic.

County- or state-run facilities also might enact pandemic procedures that include limiting the times of day you can care for your horse to promote social distancing or restricting owner access completely. Husted recommends exploring the possibility of evacuating to a private facility, where it will be easier to maintain pandemic-appropriate biosecurity measures for horses and people.

“It’s really incumbent on people to come up with a plan ahead of time, so that you don’t have your horse in a trailer for three days while you’re trying to find a place for it,” Husted said.

You might have to leave earlier and travel farther to find safe cover during the pandemic, so McConnico recommends gathering adequate supplies, including food and fuel, and carrying them with you. She advises owners to have an emergency savings fund to cover extra animal expenses, such as board and feed.

The last thing owners should plan for is the last thing most people want to think about: What if I get COVID-19?

“If you’re sick, say you have a pending COVID test or maybe you’ve been exposed, you really need to have someone else tend to your animals until you’re negative,” McConnico said, stressing the importance of having written instructions readily available for caretakers in case of emergency. “If you don’t have someone, you need to wear a mask around your animals. We still don’t believe that the animals are going to contract it from us, but we still don’t know, and this virus is changing. And so the more you can have a barrier between you and another mammal, the better.”

With a little time and effort, you can develop a plan that gives you the best chance of keeping you and your horse safe if you are forced to evacuate from a wildfire during the pandemic.