Wild Horse Education

Wildfire, What you should know

Wildfire on the range, Laura Leigh

NOTE: We are aware that this article is long. But we are on range and we see fire crews and smoke as we travel. We feel this is a very important discussion. If you travel in the western US in summer DO NOT expect to go to the range and make a cell phone call and be rescued. You will likely not have service and fire moves too fast. Do not fly drones near a fire. Drones in flight could ground fire crews in the air, the risk to the crew is too high. Please, if you go out into the most arid states in the nation to watch wild horses in summer, learn all you can about fires. Do not start one and do not get caught in one. BE SAFE.

Link to active fire map:https://fsapps.nwcg.gov/

Wildfire is a natural part of the cycle of an ecosystem. Wildfires are regenerative for the plant community, revitalizing for the watershed, renew the soil, and reset the clock for the ecosystem. But in a world that has been condensed and confined by human activity for building communities or for profit driven enterprise the consequence of a natural process in an unnatural world, can be devastating. (There is actually debate about fighting fires or letting them burn. An article in Mens Journal. A lot of our readers like to read all views http://www.mensjournal.com/adventure/outdoor/how-america-is-wasting-money-and-lives-to-fight-wildfires-20150616)

A factor that influences fire is drought. Over the last 5 years the West has experienced some form of drought. We are not pointing to the normally arid conditions in the West, we mean that there has been even less moisture. Before you go out to view wildlife please check the drought monitor and prepare accordingly:  https://www.drought.gov/drought/rcc/west

A number of our readers will remember the wild horses found dead during the  Soda Fire in Idaho. The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) opened a gate so horses, and other wildlife, could leave the area. However during a fast moving wildfire most animals are not going to instinctively move toward a gate that is always closed. In 2015 BLM removed 285 horses in the aftermath of the fire. Some of the horses are being held for a release that at this juncture, has not been announced.


We are in fire season after 4 years of drought in the West. A wet spring saw fast growth of things like invasive cheat grass (that grows and dries earlier than native grasses). Many that live in the West will not breath easy until late fall when we (hopefully) get significant moisture.

Predicting fire on the range is complicated. A lot of research is going into creating more effective modeling to help people be prepared. If you are interested in those kinds of things this is an interesting paper on drought and fire htt_journals/2013/rmrs_2013_riley_k001.pdfp://www.fs.fed.us/rm/pubs


If you travel on the range you need to be prepared. When you take that ATV, dirt bike or full-sized vehicle out on the range this summer, make sure it doesn’t start a blaze. Only a few seconds of contact between dry grass and a hot catalytic converter or tailpipe can start a fire.

Off Road Driving
Follow these basic tips when you drive off-road to prevent wildfire:

  1. Stay on roads. If a two track is overgrown and you are in a gas powered vehicle, you are unfamiliar with fire precautions and the weather is dry, simply do not travel it.
  2. Inspect your exhaust system to ensure it is undamaged, functioning properly and free of grass and twigs. (Regularly inspect the undercarriage to ensure that fuel and brake lines are intact and no oil leaks are apparent.)
  3. Operate ATVs or any vehicle on established roads and trails only, and park on gravel surfaces or pull-outs. Avoid driving or riding where dry vegetation can contact the exhaust system. Never park over tall, dry grass or piles of brush that can touch the underside of a vehicle.
  4. Always carry an approved fire extinguisher on vehicles that are used off-road.
  5. Carry a shovel and additional water. If you start a small fire by accident (you see smoldering after you pull away, always check) or on purpose (camping) make sure you put it out.
  6. When you stop inspect undercarriage for grasses and debris, remove it. We can not stress this enough.
  7. If you smell smoke in your vehicle check your undercarriage.
  8. Always check fire danger and local fire reports. You do not want to get caught on the range in a fire.
  9. When possible travel with someone that has experience on range in any weather condition you face. Learning from those with experience could save your life.

In many areas fire restrictions are already in place (6/28/2018 Western Nv just went into fire restrictions that prohibit campfires, smoking outside a vehicle and target shooting, you can read the list here: http://www.kolotv.com/content/news/Western-Nevada-fire-restrictions-to-begin-June-30-486734131.html)

Common Sense:

If its windy or extremely dry… don’t start a fire. Don’t start a campfire, light a firecracker or shoot your gun. Remembering the “Duh factor” can save your life and the lives of others, never leave home without it.



Do you have a plan for your home, your family and animals? Preparation for a fire will help you be prepared for any other disaster. Think of what you’d grab if you had 30 minutes to load your vehicle and your animals. Now make it 5 minutes. Now it’s nighttime with no power. That’s how fast fire changes everything. Rehearsing in your mind and body can save all you love and hold dear.

Planning ahead is the safest way to save property and lives.

Do you have an Evacuation Plan? Does everyone who lives in your home know what to do? Talk about it. Devise a plan everyone agrees on. Include the kids in the discussion. Do your homework. Don’t wait until it’s too late. PRACTICE IT, especially with kids.

Did you clear at least 100 ft. away from your home and barn of any burnable items? If you didn’t, you need to leave as early as possible. Embers from miles away can start fires. Defensible space is vital. Anything or any place that can catch fire or trap an ember is a danger. Anything that the wind can blow your way is a danger. If you have prevailing winds from one direction, it may be smart to clear even more space from that direction.

If fire is nearing your home or barn, walk around your space often looking for sparks or other dangers before uncontrollable fire erupts. Keep a hose or buckets nearby. Set alarms if need be to go outside and look. The TV news can’t show what your view and danger actually is. Go outside and look all around. Use the time to prepare to evacuate safely.

Do you have people or animals that need extra assistance? It will take extra time. Take the first opportunity to leave and get them to safety. Have a plan in place with what to take and where to take them. If children are at school, make arrangements for someone else to pick them up or keep them away from the fire. If you have large animals especially, be sure you have a solid plan in place to evacuate them.

Do you have a list of IMPORTANT things to take? Make your list ahead of time, not when you’re under pressure. Take items in order of their importance to you and what will actually fit in your evacuation vehicle. Having important documents in one handy file that can be grabbed quickly is a very good idea. A “To Do” list taped to the inside of a kitchen cupboard is a quick grab for anyone in an emergency, including a friend or neighbor if they have to do it for you.

The list should include important phone numbers for everyone you may need to contact. The list may not be just for you. A neighbor or relative may need to use the list. You may lose your phone, cell towers overloaded, or your battery may go dead in the chaos. Things happen. Numbers for medical, fire, law enforcement, relatives and friends, kennels, barns, rodeo grounds and fairgrounds should all be on the list.

Do you have a backup communication plan? Cell phones and landlines don’t always work. Texts may be the only means of communicating, if even then. In advance, establish a reliable person outside of the area to use as a common contact for everyone in your home or barn. Be sure everyone knows to check in with that person. They can act as coordinator and pass messages. You need to get out of danger without distractions. Communicate your actions and intentions, especially if you are alone.

Do you ALWAYS have enough gas in your vehicles to make it to safety? Don’t cut this short, you may have to make several trips or need to take different routes to get away. Also, in a fire situation, an empty tank is much more explosive than a full tank. Keep it topped off.

Is your escape route clear? Do you have an alternative route? If you only have one way out, you need to be prepared and leave early. If that route can be blocked by neighbors, fire trucks or other obstacles, leave early. If you have animals or people that need help, leave early. Do not block the path for firefighters or others trying to escape.

Do not delay your escape by trying to video or photograph scenes of the fire or your escape. Stay off your phone unless it’s really necessary. Your FULL ATTENTION should be on safety and escape.

Do not remain with your house or barn to fight the fire! People are killed this way. Water and power are often cut and escape routes may be blocked when you wait too long. Do not become a problem to firefighters trying to battle the blaze. Be smart. Stay safe.

Wragg fire in 2015, domestic horses turned loose (ABC photo)

Wragg fire in 2015, domestic horses turned loose (ABC photo)


In advance, have an Emergency Kit ready to go for all of your animals. The kit should include everything for that animal to move them to safety quickly. Include readymade ID to attach safely and securely to each animal.

Also, where you keep your emergency documents, have dated photos of your animals from every angle with you in the picture. Use close up photos of identifying marks or scars, brands or tattoos. Include any health records, microchip, brand inspection and vet information. This can be kept online or with a friend, but do NOT keep this where thieves can find this information. ID on your pet along with your proof of ownership will reunite you more easily.

At the first sign of fire, locate all of your animals and secure them so you can get to them quickly if and when you need to move them. Use the ID tag in your Emergency Kit to attach directly to your animal and get them ready to be moved. Difficult animals should be loaded as early as possible to eliminate most problems. If they do not load, do not waste too much time, get the others loaded.

If fire is imminent, do not ever delay leaving to find or bring your pets along. Your personal safety could depend on a fast escape.

SMALL ANIMALS – Do you have secure collars, leashes, and secure crates or cages ready to handle ALL of your small animals? Don’t lose your pets in the panic. Pets panic too. Loose collars are pulled off. Leashes break. Don’t expect them to work with a collar or crate if they’ve never used one before. Be prepared. Load them early. You’ve got other things to do. Your job is to contain and keep your animals safe. They may also need to be handed off to someone else. They may be living in a cage for a few days in a strange place. Have enough meds for each animal, enough for several days. Use a blanket as a bed or a cage cover.

HORSES/LARGE ANIMALS – PLAN AND PRACTICE!!! Do not be in the middle of an emergency trying to figure out how to back a trailer or find halters, lead ropes or something to mark your animal with! Your trailer should be in solid working condition and your animals should be used to it. Practice loading in the heat, at night, in high winds, in rain, and in hail and snow. ID tags should be a simple one-minute task. Don’t let your lack of preparation endanger your horse.

How can I mark my horses for identification? The most important ID on an animal is YOUR PHONE NUMBER.

SPRAY PAINT your phone number on their body in a bold color. If you have to trailer them, leave them somewhere, someone else moves them, or even release them onto open range, they can be easily identified.

A LIVESTOCK MARKER or even a heavy permanent marker can be used, depending on the animal’s coat and color. They don’t always work so test it in advance.

Another option is a LARGE METAL ID TAG (plastic and nylon melt) used with a very strong clip or strong keyring tied or braided tightly into the mane. Be sure it can’t be pulled or yanked out.

There are some bright horse ID COLLARS that fasten high (from poll to throatlatch) that work well on most large animals.

Snug FETLOCK BANDS in bright and reflective materials are also available.

In a pinch, DUCT TAPE on their neck marked with a heavy marker pen has been used but with sweat and heat, this doesn’t always stay on.

It doesn’t hurt to use two means of ID. Using reflective materials is a very good idea. Many evacuations happen at night and loose animals can be seen easier in smoky conditions, night or day.

To anyone who finds them, any of these measures identify your horse and gives you the ability to find them again if you get separated.

Is your barn prepared – even if someone you don’t know has to evacuate your animals? You may not be home. Post an emergency “To Do” list in an obvious place in your barn. Line up emergency clip halters (all sizes) that are attached to a lead line in an obvious place. Leather tack is best; nylon melts and burns in extreme heat. Clearly post your name and phone number and leave ID or instructions to mark on each animal. Your animals may be loaded into a strange trailer by a total stranger. If they won’t load, especially in a panic, your animal will be left behind. Do not count on others to risk their lives to save your animals.

Fill watering troughs before fire gets too close or pumps fail. Your fire troughs may help firefighters and others, as well as any animals. If you have a pool or large pond, that water may be used by firefighters to defend your property.

UNLOCK ALL of your gates and barn doors but KEEP THEM CLOSED for easy access by firefighters and others.

Be sure all vehicles and equipment are out of the way of firefighters. Put a key in the ignition if you have to leave. Someone may be able to use your equipment to defend your home or to escape the fire.

BARNS BURN VERY, VERY FAST! After all animals are out, close all barn doors and openings but DO NOT LOCK THEM. Blowing embers are much less likely to get in and ignite your barn. Many animals head right back into the barn as their safe place, even in a fire. Do not let your animals back in the barn.

Do you have a good trailer ready to haul ALL of your large animals? Can you drive it and back it up? At the first sign of fire, hook up your truck and trailer and face them outward so you can load and drive out straight and quickly. Animals will panic and trailer loading will not go as planned. Expect it. Plan and practice before an emergency. Many people end up walking or riding their animals miles to safety in unfamiliar areas. Keep any needed tack and water buckets hanging nearby and ready to go. If fire is closing in, don’t wait. Load up and get going.

Where am I going? Always know several places to evacuate to where you can trailer and shelter your animals. Know several routes to get there and what the requirements are at that location. They may be full. They may be in danger also. Always have a Plan B and know where the nearest rodeo grounds, fairgrounds, livestock center or large animal evacuation center is.

What do I do with my horse if I can’t evacuate them? As soon as fire is in your area, get animals out of any barn and into a fenced area. Close off access to the barn. If fire is imminent and you’ve got to leave and have no way of taking them, ID tag them, take their HALTERS OFF and put them in very large, open pasture (or let them loose). If you don’t have such acreage, you will have to open the gate or cut the fence in a direction AWAY from the fire but also AWAY from roads. Do not expect them to stay safe in a fenced area unless it is really big. Then get yourself to safety immediately. (During a fire a few years ago in Reno firefighters cut fences as a fire raged through a valley. The fences that did not get cut? There were dead horses. We KNOW this is controversial, go with your gut).

Expect the unexpected when there is a wildfire. Winds change dramatically as fire creates its own weather patterns. Power goes out. Water pumps don’t work and the pressure can be very low. Phones don’t work. People don’t look where they’re going. Animals, domestic and wild, can come from any direction, at any speed. Fire moves fast and unpredictably.

The main thing is for your and your family to remain safe. You’ve got a better chance of saving your property and animals if you are smart and plan ahead.


Stay Safe.

Main website: http://WildHorseEducation.org

Categories: Wild Horse Education