Minimizing your risk in a bush fire

Summer is the scariest season when it comes to owning horses. The ground is dry. It doesn’t take much to start a fire and it certainly doesn’t take long for it to lose control and move rapidly. A few years ago we had a bush fire come very close and very fast to our horses. It moved so fast in our direction it was to late to get horses out. Lucky for us, everyone and every horse was safe. This doesn’t just apply for bush fires but any natural disaster. Floods and storms can take just as much with them as a bush fire can.

Keep your paddocks clear of any debris and keep grass eaten down, dead trees and dry long paddocks will becomes more of a hazard. Pack and prepare early. Fire is 30kms away and you can see the smoke?  I would be loading my float and getting horses ready to get on! Having a hard to float horse in a time of panic will make the situation more stressful. Work with the horses throughout the year in case of emergency. If the fire moves in quickly, sometimes you have no choice but to leave them behind. On high fire days, just in case I would remove all rugs and halters, anything that can get them caught on a tree or fence. I would never open external gates, give them room to run the property but not leave it. You can imagine other people and firetrucks trying to get in and out with thick smoke? Chances are they won’t see your horse running across a road and the danger is increased for everyone. In case a fence does go down, I would spray paint my phone number on my horse and write it on their hooves in permanent marker. You could also braid in luggage tags to their manes and tails that way if something happens, I could be contacted.

Below is a complied list of experienced horse owners explaining their experiences and their attack plans when coming into the season.

Make sure your horses are trained to get on a float, practice doing it quickly as you would be doing it in an emergency. Don’t leave it till the day, full of panic and concern, and find they refuse to load. Also that they are taught to hard tie….. in case they need to stay tied to the float when you get them to safety. Know where you are going to take them to…a friend, a showground or pony club ground that is offering accommodation. Gear you need is a bucket for each horse, and some hay to get you through, obviously they will be already wearing halters. I wouldn’t be concerned about too much else. – Kathryn See

Plan ahead. Never dealt with a fire but went through a cyclone in 2015. I had 9 horses on my 25 property. Originally planned to have 3 in stables, 2 minis in a backyard with covered patio and the others in two different paddocks. When the winds started to get stronger I changed my mind about the stables as I was unsure how they would stand up. Minis also had to be moved during very high winds as the wind was coming directly into their area. They all survived without injuries out in open paddocks except the minis who were on my dogs patio protected by the house. Don’t ever want to do that again as it was very frightening. There was no option to relocate but spent several days securing all objects. Had 3 horses elsewhere and was very worried about 2 of them who were in a paddock with shelters 6 klms away. They were very lucky as neighbors had failed to secure 44 gallon drums and there were 4 scattered over the property with our 2 horses. – Jenny Lewthwaite

Always make sure you have a tow vehicle available and the tanks are filled, even have the float hooked up and ready to go on catastrophic fire ban days. Move horses either off property to somewhere safe or a dirt paddock (or even arena) before its too late. That’s the only thing that saved one of my horses life. Fence posts were on fire but as there wasn’t even a single weed in his yard he was safe. I had 2 horses on separate properties at the time, about 30kms apart, so I thought the one furthest away from the start of the fire would be safe so went and helped move my other and mums (who were in direct line of the fire). Got mine and our old boy out with minutes to spare. (Only to hear the fire went through the property my other horse was at) Unfortunately at the time I had to leave mums mare behind as I only had a 2 horse float, dad was nearly there to get the other float but did not get there in time, had to turn back. (He got that close the paint on his car started bubbling). Luckily mum had put her horse in the backyard, which had saved her life (she took shelter pretty much under the veranda, on the green grass).
Best thing to do is to try not to panic, horses will pick up on it and even the easy loaders may refuse. Plan somewhere safe to move your horses before fire season even starts, that way there isn’t any last minute panic of where to go. Fires are extremely unpredictable so best thing to do is be prepared long before. (Heck, even start putting a plan in place now)-Alyssa Betts

We went through a major bush fire just over a year ago, the things we learnt: if you’re going to move your horses do it very early as once roads are closed that’s it. Have a plan if you’re going to stay and fight be prepared: have a generator (power is one of the first things to go), have a good, working fire fighter, have a source of water that doesn’t rely on mains pressure, know how to fight a fire, keep your property clean and debris free as much as feasible. In your property have at least one fenced paddock that has minimal burnable material including boundary such as trees (even if it’s pure sand/ploughed) plus a fence that won’t easily burn (ie star pickets and wire/ steel rail) as fences are a major problem. Try to not let your horse/s have the full run of the property as emergency vehicles often don’t close gates (we ended up with 10 of the neighbors horses). Ensure your horse will load at any time including the middle of the night. Try to keep yourself calm as most of the time the horses aren’t that concerned by the fire (I had one that would watch every new tree go up intrigued!). The biggest don’t is never let horses out to the road it is one of the worst things to do, they will cope much better when they know their surroundings rather than fleeing on unknown ground and when loose they are a major hazard! – Lacey Ford

Evacuate early. Way early.
During summer my horses have the run of the entire property, we keep grass as low as possible (often over grazing some paddocks), no low hanging trees, only 1-2 trees in each paddock, no shrubbery in paddocks. If it’s a high risk day they don’t have rugs on or fly veils. Mobile numbers are painted on hooves. Manes are kept short in summer too.
Before every fire season we do a huge clean up and burn off, trim any trees, clear fence lines, etc.
where I live was majorly effected during Ash Wednesday and we nearly had fired during black Saturday. – Samantha Grigg

A great point of call if you’re concerned is to contact your local CFA. You can find some more information here CFA Horses and Bushfires.

Download the fire app and keep track of fires in your area during summer and burning off periods. Once the fire has gone through, and you find your horses, get them vet checked, smoke inhalation effects everything. Also, people seem to forget about the hooves, they might be impacted just by walking over where the fire had been.Staying informed is your best defense.