Do you have an evacuation plan in place?

by Marion Wiebe, Patti Henker and Susan Zubach

On September 10, 2012, Lethbridge [Alberta, Canada] found itself once again in the path of a prairie fire; the second in less than a year. The fire originated west of the city on the First Nation Blood Resen'e and was caused by a downed power line. Due to extremely dry conditions and high winds, the fire moved very quickly. Some estimates mentioned it was moving 140 metres per minute.

The fire moved: crossed Hwy 509, continued east and jumped the Oldman River near a kennel and boarding facility where they house approximately 20 horses. Arrangements were made to move the horses to Circle C located at the top of the coulee, close to town. Around 2:15 pm, many of the horses were brought there by trailer with the remaining four to six horses being led on foot.

It was shortly after this, at about 3:00 pm, that the Circle C was told to evacuate. The Circle C boards over 30 horses, which meant there were now over 50 horses that had to be moved to safety.

Standing in the yard were three small (two- to three-horse) trailers. A phone call was made to the Rocky Mountain Turf Club and Dot Stein put out a call for assistance. The response was nothing short of amazing. The police were very cooperative and allowed all rescue vehicles in without a problem. Horsemen showed up with three gooseneck trailers and extra hands to help load. Adding to the stress were a few horses that had not been hauled often, several very senior' horses as well as mares and foals. The smoke was thick and the wind continued to howl but all horses were moved without incident within an hour and a half. The race track did not have space for 50-plus horses, so Perlich Auction Mart was contacted. Bob Perlich agreed to keep the horses overnight or until the evacuation order was lifted. Horses were divided into several pens and Perlich Auction provided them with feed and water. The evacuation went on without a hitch; however, it could have been disastrous if the wind had changed direction. 

There is a lot of information available about how to make a suitable evacuation plan. Please prepare yourselves. We never thought that fire would threaten our equine friends at all, let alone two times within one year. Last year, the fire was as close as half a kilometre away to the south. This year it was a bit further away to the north, two kilometres. Still, way too close for comfort.

Marion Wiebe, Patti Henker and Susan Zubach are boarders at Circle Q  and have been horse owners for more than 25 years.

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