I have several friends in Eastern Montana who have lost livestock, pasture, and hay to large wildfires this summer. These experienced ranchers and firefighters were all surprised by how quickly the fires developed into major catastrophes. Teton County has a tremendous volunteer fire service who have been hard at work keeping fires contained. I am hopeful they continue to win the battle, but here are some tips if you need to evacuate your pets, horses, or livestock. First and foremost, the safety of you and your family should be priority number one. That cannot be emphasized enough. If you get word that your area is being evacuated, start the process immediately. Wildfires are very unpredictable and can spread rapidly. Following your local fire department or sheriff’s office on social media has become a proven way to stay in touch with fast developing, emergency situations.
When evacuating with pets, each animal should have its own carrier. Birds, rodents and reptiles should be transported in cages. Cover cages with a light sheet or cloth to minimize their fear. Make sure your pets are always wearing properly fitted collars with personal identification, rabies and license tags. Store vaccination/medical records, veterinary contact information, proof of ownership, a current photo, and a Disaster Preparedness Kit in one location. Pet Disaster Preparedness Kit should contain: pet carrier for each pet, two week supply of food and water, non-spill food and water bowls, medications and dosing instructions, litter box and litter, plastic bags for waste disposal, leashes/collars/harnesses, blankets, and toys and treats. If you must leave your pets, bring them indoors and turn them loose in a room with no windows and adequate ventilation, such as a utility room, garage, bathroom, or other area that can be easily cleaned. Leave only dry foods and fresh water in non-spill containers. If possible open a faucet to let water drip into a large container or partially fill a bathtub with water.
When notified of an evacuation order by law enforcement, you need to begin evacuating horses as soon possible. If the fire will overrun you quickly and you are unable to get your horses out, do not leave them confined. After getting them out of the barn or pasture, close the doors or gates. Horses in danger will often seek the comfort of the known, such as their pastures and stalls. If you have not had your horses permanently identified in some way, paint your cell phone number on their hip. If you only have nylon halters, remove them when turning horses loose as nylon halters get hot and could cause further skin damage. Now would be a good time to get your trailer ready and practice loading your horse or horses. If you don’t have your own truck and trailer, make arrangements with neighbors before disaster strikes. Just remember that roads may be closed to incoming traffic. Make sure your neighbors have your contact numbers. A Livestock Disaster Preparedness Kit should be loaded in the trailer and include: hay, feed and water for three days, copies of brand inspection or other ownership paperwork, non-nylon leads and halters, first aid items, wire cutters and a sharp knife, water buckets, and flashlights.
Larger operations need to think about how they trail livestock into a defensible area (sub-irrigated field, plowed field, or pasture protected by roads or creeks). In battling a wildfire, firefighters will do what they can, but they are not responsible for evacuating your livestock. Firefighters may cut fences or open gates to free trapped animals. Firefighters will concentrate on structure protection and fire suppression and probably will not focus on your hay stack. Make sure you can defend your stacks, or if possible, plow fire break around them. Trucking in expensive hay to feed your livestock for the next year is not economically feasible with the current markets. Remember to stockpile some human feed also. Once you get in a fire, you may not be able to leave for food, water, or a phone charger for several days. Staying in communication with family and emergency services is imperative. With the start of hunting season, please remind hunters to not park or drive any type of vehicle in grass or stubble. Hopefully you never have to experience a wildfire, but it always pays to plan for the worst.