Every animal owner’s nightmare is to be in a natural disaster situation where their beloved animals are at risk. However, as difficult as it is to imagine a worst case scenario, the best way to prevent risk is to be prepared.

For equestrians, barn fires are a very real risk. After speaking with numerous disaster victims, we compiled a list of recommended safeguards and actions to take in the worst of situations. Here are our helpful tips for fire prevention and evacuation to benefit those in a disaster situation. 

Fire Prevention Tips

  • No smoking anywhere near the barn or surrounding areas
  • Don’t use hot plates or heating pads in the barn, and if you must, make sure to monitor them when plugged in
  • Turn off and unplug appliances, not in use such as clippers, radios, coffee makers and fans
  • Keep flammable materials out of the barn such as gas, motorcycles, tractors, stored hay, shavings, and straw. If you must keep your stored hay, shavings and straw in the barn, store it all together at one end of the barn and preferably as far away from stalls or doors as possible.
  • Store gas-powered vehicles at least 50 feet from the barn since intense heat can cause them to explode.
  • Knockdown cobwebs, as they create pathways for the fire to spread.
  • Keep grass, shrubs, trees, and other landscape mowed and trimmed to provide a fire break perimeter around your barn. A victim of the San Luis Rey Lilac Fire said, “Those damn palm trees would not stop burning, they were like kindle. And when the wind gusted they rained fire on every barn they were near.”
  • Use heavy-duty outdoor extension cords to prevent overheating and short circuits. Do not use worn or damaged cords and never string cords together.
  • Have a professional electrician inspect your barn to make sure that the structure is electrically safe.
  • Place multiple fire extinguishers throughout the barn, on each end, on the outside, and in a nearby location. The Multipurpose Extinguisher (rated ABC) is recommended for barn use.
  • Check fire extinguishers periodically to ensure they are in good condition and ready to operate. Also, read the user’s manual to make sure you and your barn staff know how to use a fire extinguisher effectively.
  • Have a local Fireman come out to check your facility for fire safety and give you any advice to be more prepared.

Have a Fire Evacuation Plan for the Worst-Case-Scenario

  • Have all horses identified by microchip or tattoo.
  • Have another source of identification ready to put on your horse if you are forced to evacuate.
    – Leather neckband with engraved contact information, these are safer than halters and are relatively inexpensive.
    – Leather or breakaway halter with ID tag paired with lead ropes on each stall.
    – Do not put Coggins Test on a horse. A Coggins Test is a passport out of state for horse thieves.
  • Maintain one waterproof container (small or large depending on the number of horses) with each horses’ registration papers, Coggins, ID photos, medical history, emergency contacts, and veterinarian information.
  • Create an equine first-aid kit/evacuation kit including: hay, 50-gallon plastic water bottle, Bute paste, Banamine paste, a tranquilizer such as Acepromazine, needles, syringes, gauze, vetrap, scissors, Clear Eyes, thermometer, electrolyte pastes, Alushield Aerosol Bandage, Betadine Scrub, extra leather halters, lead ropes and water buckets. You may need other items depending on your horse’s individual needs!
  • Do you have cats, dogs, goats or other animals on the farm? Think of their plan also.
    – Have a cat/dog carrier.
    – Get cats in their carriers early to prevent losing them.
    – Cats and goats will be easier to evacuate if wearing a harness. And don’t forget to have an identification tag on them too!
  • Create a human first-aid/evacuation kit including water, gloves, masks, knife, flashlight, list of important phone numbers, and a phone charger.
  • Work with your horses to ensure they will load, even into small trailers or cramped conditions.
  • Leather halters are strongly preferred. Nylon melts in high heat and will get stuck and not break away.
  • Make a list of items in the barn that you would like to attempt to salvage once your animals are safely in transport, such as Magna Wave Machine, Transpirator Nebulizer, Lazer Therapy Machines, saddles, bits, and important medications.
  • If you have a truck and trailer, make sure they are fueled up, check the tires, and have multiple sets of keys in different locations.
  • If you do not have a truck and trailer, look at all your transportation options ahead of time and choose the best/most reliable options for you and your animals.
  • Select at least 2 evacuation sites where you and your animals will be safe.
  • Identify at least 2 exit routes since sometimes roads can become impassable or jammed.
  • Communicate your plan:
    – Post instructions in English and Spanish inside and outside of the barn area.
    – Have periodic meetings with barn staff to discuss prevention and action plans.
    – Have several other reliable people, other than staff, who are aware of your plans including van companies, neighbors, clients and grooms.

When in Doubt, Get Out

Research shows that most barns are fully engulfed in fire and deadly gases within 5-7 minutes from when the fire breaks out. Trying to individually catch, halter and lead each horse out and away to safety is virtually impossible. Opening all stall doors and chasing them out is a more realistic solution.

  • Evacuate early! If possible, get horses out onto a trailer and shipped to an evacuation location before the fire reaches your area. If relocation isn’t an option, then removing your horses from small confined areas and into large open areas can give them more chance of survival. When time isn’t on your side do not hesitate to turn them loose and allow them to escape the fire.
  • When turning your horses loose, CLOSE THE STALL DOOR BEHIND THEM. Horses often do not want to leave the familiarity and supposed safety of their stalls. If they get run out, they may come right back in.
  • If horses are turned out in an arena or a pasture, turn on sprinklers.
  • Make sure to grab your animal and human first-aid kits.
  • Let people know where you are. Emergency situations change quickly, it is imperative your location is known.
  • If you are trying to help or rescue horses or other animals, please do not do this alone. Animals are scared, dangerous and you do not want to be put into a situation where you could be injured.
  • Use masks and gloves from your first-aid kit to avoid the negative effects of the fire and smoke.

Natural disasters can strike at any time. All we can do is our best to prevent, prepare, communicate and evacuate. Please take the time to formulate a plan that fits your equine operation and let’s hope you will never have to use it.