Fire Evacuation Procedures: Do You Have a Plan?
Having an Emergency Evacuation Checklist Can Mean the Difference Between Life and Death on the Farm
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Our recent fires in the state of Washington have been a lesson in preparing fire evacuation procedures. The fires swooped in so fast that there was little time for evacuation for many residents in our small communities. Fortunately here at Just Fowling Around we didn’t have to evacuate, though there were levels of evacuation and warnings. Hot coals and ash were falling on the property and smoke levels made air quality difficult at best to breathe. The intense heat from the fires along with the 106-108 summer temperatures was unbearable.
Do you have a plan for when disaster strikes the farm? How do you protect your animals? What kind of emergency essentials do we need to keep on hand? How do you keep them from succumbing to the situation? What are the best kinds of survival food to have in case of an emergency or disaster? These are all questions we’ve had to face over the past week. Many cattle were lost because owners tried to evacuate them only to have the fire turn back and no time to rescue them, so evacuation is not always a good option when the situation is so volatile.
Fire Evacuation Procedures: Should You Let The Animals Loose?
We made the clear choice that if need be we would open all gates and let the chickens seek shelter rather than even attempt to evacuate 100s of them which would have created more stress, more danger and likely the losses would have been countless. Trying to move them from one danger zone to another was simply not an option with many roads closed, danger at every turn and the unknown when we reached a destination. It would have been far worse to run into other danger zones and have to let the chickens go into an unknown environment than to let them go right here so they could at least find their way back home when the situation improved. If this is a choice that has to be made, be sure to also lock those gates so they cannot get back in. Livestock seek safety and familiarity, so they will come back into a danger zone if you do not lock them out.
In an emergency and particularly a disaster you have to make some very hard choices, and outcomes may not be as you anticipate. We had folks from all over the area and beyond offering to help evacuate our birds, but we could not allow them to take those risks coming into an area that was dangerous for them, for us and definitely for the animals. There were shelters set up at the fairgrounds and people offering their farm lands, but it was impossible to even get to those areas.
But we learned a few things throughout this entire situation. One, that you do what you have to do in the face of danger; two, you can never be fully prepared; three, what if you have no power to run water, no power to run the fans in the intense heat and smoke?; and four, what if you have no extra feed and run out with no way to get more supplies? What if you do not have enough fuel to get to a safe area? What if you cannot evacuate your animals or even get yourself to a safe destination?
Fire Evacuation Procedures: No Power
Power poles were burned off, power lines down, which means there was no power for the well pumps for water. Chickens need a lot of water and with high temperatures and stress, more water than normal. Having available water is absolutely imperative. Either have a solar pump, water reservoir or water tanks and drums for water storage when you can’t pump water. Livestock have to have the water no matter what the circumstances are and that water is the difference between life and death for you and the animals. In the case of fire, the water can help to douse the hot coals falling in areas that set off more fire.
If there is power, fans are necessary in the coops and barns to help keep the air circulating so the birds and other livestock do not succumb to the smoke inhalation. With the delicate respiratory system in chickens, they can succumb to the heavy smoke and nothing you can do to stop that from happening if you cannot get air circulating around them. We were one of few that still maintained power and able to run fans and misters to keep the smoke inhalation at levels the chickens could tolerate and keep the area reasonably cool so they were not succumbing to the intense heat.
If you have small flocks, having a mobile unit can be useful if you are able to evacuate safely. Even if that is an old camper or travel trailer, it gives you a safe place for the chickens and a quick way to evacuate as needed. Having extra feed on hand is essential. We cannot anticipate how long an emergency situation will exist and running out of feed is not a worry you want to have. If you’re wondering what size generator do I need?, a quick trip to your local farm and tractor supply store should help you figure out the best size generator for your facility.
Fire Evacuation Procedures: When You Should Stay In Place
Keeping extra fuel is essential if you can do so safely; in emergency situations, supplies are gone and no way for more supplies to be brought in. But without fuel you cannot evacuate. Keeping your vehicles topped off with fuel will at least get you to a safe destination. Precaution must be in place, in the case of fire, if you have fuel tanks or propane tanks they must be turned off or the they will ignite and explode in the intense heat and fire exposure.
Having a generator is essential if you can operate it safely. We had warning that with the power down, that if the generators were not hooked up properly, they could energize the dead power lines causing further disaster. In some situations a generator may not even be useful if you have no fuel to operate it or a safe way to use it.
We think of fire evacuation procedures being just a matter of packing essentials, like medications, important documents and a 72-hour kit, then heading out to safety, but evacuation is not that simple. When roads are closed, danger is lurking at every mile, it is often better to stay in place and do what you can to protect yourself and your animals. Order for top evacuation levels in the area said evacuate if you can do so safely. In the case for many, there was no safe evacuation and if attempts had been made, there likely would have been loss of life which fortunately did not happen.
Nothing Left But Rubble
Keeping dry grasses and weeds mown down kept the hot coals from having fuel to feed them so they were not igniting more fires, having metal buildings for our birds kept hot coals from igniting the roofs of our coops, but even homes and buildings with metal roofs, yet wood structures were completely lost in these fires. The few that were spared, had sprinklers running, but not everyone was so fortunate. Fires were completely unpredictable and a neighbor’s house gone in a flash, yet other houses and structures on either side were unscathed.
We have friends that lost everything; even with adequate fire evacuation procedures, their homes and belongings were completely wiped out before they barely escaped with their lives. Disasters are going to happen no matter where you live, no matter how prepared you are, but having a fire evacuation procedures in place and knowing what you will do with your livestock will be the difference between being helpless and being able to do something in the situation.
No matter what the emergency or disaster, whether that is a hurricane, a flood or in our case a raging fire, take care of what you can to keep your animals safe, but your first priority has to be your family and their safety no matter what the situation is. If letting the animals go is your only option, then it’s a choice that has to be made. Animals find shelter and are much wiser than we humans often are; they know how to seek food and a safe haven that may be far safer than any we can provide for them. We were reminded time after time that life goes on in face of disaster as chicks were hatched and protected by mama hens in spite of the stresses, heavy smoke and uncertainty.
Originally published in 2014 and regularly vetted for accuracy.