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Equine Fire Safety

Prepare for fire and evacuation by following these tips.

Maintain a "Fire Cache." Tools to have on hand at your facility should include:

- A ladder long enough to reach the barn roof in case of a roof fire 
- A minimum of 100 feet of preconnected garden hose (or adequate length to reach your structures) with a spray nozzle 
- A shovel for clearing vegetation and throwing dirt 
- A rake for clearing vegetation 
- Fire extinguisher suitable for use in grass fires 
- Water buckets 
- A battery powered radio for monitoring news reports and emergency evacuation broadcasts

Keep these items together in an easily accessible place. Don't let the tools be used for any purpose other than fire fighting. Mark them with red paint if necessary. Make sure everyone who lives, works or boards at your barn knows where the cache is located.

Reduce fire hazards...

Do some "hazard reduction" work around the barn by:
- Store gasoline (as well as paints, solvents, and other flammable materials) in an approved safety container away from occupied buildings. 
- Keep hay, straw, shavings, scrap wood and other combustible materials away from structures. 
- Clean roof surfaces and gutters regularly; rake perimeter areas. 
- Keep one hose (at least 100' long) with nozzle connected at a strategic location at all times. 
- Keep shrubs and trees pruned. 
- Maintain a fuel break around all structures. 
- Keep weeds "knocked down" in trailer and equipment storage areas. 
- Identify two retreat routes from your property. 
- Post "No Smoking" signs in and around the barn and in vegetated areas as appropriate. 
- Make sure that chainsaws and other equipment have approved spark arrestors.

Have a plan...

Develop a barn "Fire and Safety Evacuation Plan" and post it in a clearly visible place. Make sure that everyone who lives, works or boards at your barn understands the evacuation plan. Have an annual meeting to discuss fire contingency plans.

Wear safe attire ...

In the event that you are involved in a fire, the right clothes can help shield you from radiant heat, burning embers and flames.

- Cotton fabrics are preferable to synthetics. Synthetics will melt and can cause serious burns! 
- Wear long pants and a long-sleeved shirt with the sleeves down. 
- Sturdy leather gloves, while cumbersome, are essential to protect your hands from painful and disabling burns. 
- Leather or "vibram" type slip-resistant shoes are the only safe footwear. Tennis shoes or rubber shoes will melt, causing serious burns. 
- Wear a cotton bandana "bandit style" to shield your face. While wet cloth is more effective in smoke, the moisture can also cause serious steam burns to your face and respiratory system. 
- Goggles will help protect your eyes from smoke and burning embers. A word to the wise...condition your horse to your strange appearance ahead of time! 
- Always buy and use fire-safe gear on your horse. The same principles for "fire safe clothing" apply to your horse. 
- Avoid synthetic (nylon or plastic) halters or lead ropes. These may melt and cause serious burns to your horse and its handler. Leather halters and cotton lead ropes, while generally not as strong as nylon, will be safer. 
- Don't use nylon sheets, fly masks or other synthetic tack or equipment during a fire.
Prepare an evacuation kit...
Equip a plastic trash barrel (with lid) with the following to be used in the event of an emergency:
- Water bucket 
- Extra lead rope, halter and crop 
- Sheet or blanket 
- Wraps 
- Equine first aid items 
- Phone number of your veterinarian 
- Anything else you feel is essential for your horse's care and handling during the first 24 hours.

Keep the kit lightweight so you can toss it in the back of a pickup truck or other vehicle. Store it in an easily accessible location and don't use it for anything but emergencies.

JUST DO IT! It has been shown time and time again that if you don't take the above precautions within the next 24 hours, the chances are very good you won't do anything at all to prepare for a fire emergency.

When the fire comes your way... 

Your personal safety and that of the people working with you must be your first concern!

- Try to remain calm and alert; think clearly and act decisively. 
- Pay attention to conditions and fire behavior. Watch for a sudden change in wind direction or speed; a dramatic change in air temperature or humidity; smoke and ash or burning embers dropping around you. 
- Post a lookout for possible dangers. 
- Identify your escape routes and safety areas. 
- Point your vehicles in the direction of your first escape route. Leave the doors unlocked and the keys in the ignition. 
- Maintain good communication with the people you're working with; give clear instructions and make sure they are understood by having others repeat what you've said. 
- Cooperate with firefighters and law enforcement officers. Your safety, and the safety of other civilians and emergency personnel, is their paramount concern.

If you are caught in the fire...

If you are not able to evacuate in advance of the fire and are caught out in the open when the fire hits, consider the following:

- The best temporary shelter will be where the vegetation is sparse. This could include well-grazed pastures, open arenas or rings, road cuts and banks, large boulders and rock outcroppings, and depressions in the ground. Clear as much vegetation and flammable ground litter as you can while the fire is approaching, then lie face down in the depression and cover yourself with anything that will shield you from the heat.

Good and bad places to go...

Vehicle - Move the vehicle to bare ground or a sparsely vegetated area, close all windows and doors, lie on the floor and cover yourself with a jacket or blanket. The fuel tank will normally not explode until the car is well on fire or may not explode at all. Keep calm. Stay in the vehicle and let the fire pass.

Road cut - If caught without shelter on a road, lie face down along the road cut or the ditch on the uphill side (less fuel and less convection heat). Cover yourself with anything that will shield you from the heat of the fire.

Natural chimneys - A natural chimney is a narrow, steep canyon that concentrates heat and updraft. Temperatures may exceed several thousand degrees Fahrenheit during a fire. Also, precious oxygen is quickly consumed by the advancing fire leading to the threat of asphyxiation. Avoid natural chimneys!

"Saddles" - Topographic saddles are wide, natural paths for fire, winds and vegetation; fires tend to be drawn up and over these depressions with great speed and intensity. Avoid saddles!

Never try to outrun the head of a fast moving fire! Try to get to the flanks or into a burned area instead.

A word about smoke inhalation...

'Feel like taking a nap as the world burns around you? You may be suffering from smoke inhalation, a dangerous, debilitating and sometimes fatal condition.
Carbon monoxide, an invisible, odorless gas present in wildfire smoke, attacks the brain and nervous system, causing temporary disorientation, impaired judgement, and slower reaction times. It also puts extreme stress on your heart. If you feel yourself getting drowsy or confused, you may be suffering from carbon monoxide poisoning. You must get out of the smoke.
Smoke from wildfires also contains aldehydes and organic acids, which are powerful irritants to the eyes, throat and lungs. A cotton bandana tied over the nose and mouth will help some, as will goggles, but you can still be overcome by smoke. Remember...smoke from a wildfire can create as great a survival problem as the flames. Be careful.

This information on fire safety was originally prepared by K. Good, Los Padres National Forest, 1990
For more information...
Free pamphlet -- What Should I Do with My Horse in a Fire, Flood and/or Earthquake?
Contact the City of Los Angeles, Animal Regulation Dept., Emergency Preparedness Coordinator
419 S. Spring St., Room 1400
Los Angeles, CA 90013