By Alayne Blickle, Horses for Clean Water
Many horse owners live in rural areas surrounded by trees or open rangeland with grass or shrubs. In a dry year these materials can easily become fuels for wildfire; high temperatures, limited summer rainfall, strong winds and lightning storms all lead to very high risks of fire danger.
Southwest Idaho Resource Conservation and Development recently funded a program to help horse owners and small acreage livestock owners reduce wildfire risk on their properties as well as prepare for possible wildfire evacuation.
Below are tips to identify wildfire risks for your horse property and appropriate actions to minimize those risks. Follow up by referring to Horses for Clean Water website for detailed information on Firewise for Horse Owners.
• Create a defensible space around buildings. A defensible space is an area where combustibles and vegetation are kept to a minimum. Use landscaping plants that are low growing, drought tolerant, high moisture content, high salt or soap content, low oil or resin content and have green stems. For plant examples, here is an article on Firewise Landscaping for Horse Properties. A great place to visit in person and see ideas is the Idaho Botanical Garden’s Firewise Garden or you can review their handout.
• When possible, locate barns, shelters and other structures on flat land or towards the bottom of a slope. Fires burn more rapidly up hills and draws than across a flat. Draws can serve as a chimney, creating more intense fires that spread rapidly with uphill drafts. Also, when building new outbuildings place them as far apart as is reasonably possible, 30 feet or more is best.
• Flammable outdoor items can catch an ember and ignite. Remove things such as wood patio furniture, brooms, flower boxes and flammable doormats. Replace with non-flammable materials such as wrought iron patio furniture.
• Wooden or plastic fences burn and can lead a fire to buildings. Choose other types of fencing when possible. It’s especially important to avoid combustible fencing when it attaches to buildings or structures. If you already have this, create a removable section, such as a gate or panel, that can be taken out or left open when there’s a threat of fire.
• When building or planning new outbuildings choose non-flammable materials such as metals for sidings and roofs. Consider tile, brick or adobe – and green roofs. Replace combustible sidings or roofs with non-flammable materials.
• Create a firebreak, a 15 to 30 foot wide buffer of cleared land, between combustibles like crops, hay storage, bedding storage, feed storage and other structures (barn, house, fences, etc.) A firebreak can be a plowed or disked strip, a dirt road, a path mowed down low or possibly even a walking trail.
• Remove cheatgrass and dried weeds through grazing, mowing, prescribed burning or herbicide use. During fire seasons keep all vegetation within 100 feet of buildings either green, low or grazed down.
• Clean roof surfaces and gutters to remove leaves, branches or debris. These materials can catch a stray spark from a nearby fire and ignite.
• Keep firewood, trash, lumber, hay and empty feed sacks 15 to 30 feet away from buildings or other combustibles.
Now follow up by putting together a firewise evacuation plan for your property and horses so that if the threat of wildfire becomes real you will have a plan in place to deal with it.
Alayne Blickle, a life-long equestrian and educator, is the creator/director of Horses for Clean Water, an award winning, nationally acclaimed environmental education program that “wrote the book” on
caring for horses and land. Well-known for her enthusiastic, fun and down-to-earth approach, Alayne is an educator and photojournalist who has worked with horse and livestock owners for over 20 years. She teaches and travels throughout North America and other countries as well as writes for equestrian publications.
Alayne also runs an environmentally sensitive ecotourism guest ranch, Sweet Pepper Ranch, in Southwestern Idaho where she and her husband raise top-notch reining horses and beautiful grass hay.
For more information on Firewise for Horse Owners, or to schedule a FREE presentation to your horse group please contact Alayne at [email protected]m or 206-909-0225.