Evacuating your home in the event of a fire advisory is scary enough, but livestock and horse owners who live in hard-to-access communities face even greater risks and challenges. Animal evacuation experts, however, say taking the necessary steps and precautions can reduce the need for panic as well as save lives - both human and animal.
n Be prepared. Don't wait until the fire is lapping at your doorstep to load your animals into trailers and evacuate them, says Olivia Fiamengo, coordinator of the Storey County Emergency Livestock Response Team.
n Have a buddy system. In the event you are unable to return home, Fiamengo urges residents to make arrangements with neighbors ahead of time to have their animals evacuated.
n Store plenty of water. A horse drinks on average 10 to 12 gallons of water a day; but a horse under stress drinks twice that amount. If you "stand and defend," Fiamengo recommends storing enough water to last two to three days.
Willis Lamm, a retired firefighter and horse expert, says ranches and farms - which rely on electric pumps to draw their water - should keep barrels of water around the property to put out small fires, as the electric company can shut off power in an emergency. "It's amazing what you can do with some water and a shovel," Lamm said.
Livestock owners can use their own animals to create a "defensible" area around their property by having them graze off weeds and shrubs that could help prevent the advance of a fire.
Know your evacuation and emergency officials. This will prevent potential thieves from posing as emergency officials and stealing your livestock. Also, keep identifiable records of your animals to avoid a delay in recovering them if they are evacuated by emergency officials.
Never cut your animals loose. Domesticated animals cannot fend for themselves during a fire. Sensing danger, a horse is liable to freeze up and stay in the barn or manger, even while it burns down. Worse, a panicked, free-roaming horse can pose a hazard to emergency rescue officials. During a fire, an animal on the loose can become a liability to both itself and others, says Fiamengo.
Livestock owners need to remember that hay and manure in a corral can fuel a fire. "A bale of densely packed hay can burn for days," says Fiamengo. She suggests keeping stacks of hay and manure away from flammable structures. "Don't pile hay into the trailer for the horse, either. A live ember could blow into the trailer and start a fire."
If a bale of hay catches fire, Fiamengo suggests spreading it out on the ground to extinguish it. Putting out the sides isn't enough because the ember could still be burning inside.
Keep at least half a tank of fuel in your vehicle especially if you live at higher elevations. "You don't want to run out of gas while you're waiting in a line of cars to evacuate," Fiamengo says.
Practice evacuating under calm conditions and plan more than one escape route. In remote communities with few points of ingress and egress, roads can get busy with emergency vehicles and fleeing residents.
"If you need to evacuate in 20 minutes and don't have time to load your animals in trailers, it's time to start thinking like a burglar," Lamm said. "Ask yourself what are your most valued possessions and tie them up in a bed sheet."
Those wishing to become emergency volunteers can attend an evacuation training workshop on from 9 a.m. to noon June 11 at the Virginia City Highlands Fire Station. Preregistration is required. For information, call Fiamengo at 847-7821.
n Contact reporter Dan Moreau at firstname.lastname@example.org or 887-2430 ext. 351.
What: Storey County Volunteer evacuation training workshop
When: 9 a.m. to noon June 11
Where: Virginia City Highlands Fire Station
Information: Call Olivia Fiamengo at 847-7821
Preregistration is required