Preparing you and yours for fire season

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The sun is shining and the weather is warm — summer is officially here. But with warm weather comes fire season.

The warmer the temperature, the more the brush, a fire’s main fuel source, is heated by the sun. And this year, Santa Clarita received a substantial amount of rain, which also means that brush has grown and fires have larger amounts of fuel.

“This is a different climate now, the amount of fuel that is up in these hills right now is so intense,” said Jay Weiner, head of The Gentle Barn’s Animal Rescue Services. “It’s going to burn. It’s not about if it’s going to burn — it’s going to burn, we just don’t know when … This is going to be a much more intense fire (season).”

Preparing for fire season may be an easy task for some, but for those with larger animals, it can become daunting, requiring an extra level of planning, preparedness and practice.

“70% of people who don’t evacuate, don’t evacuate because of their animals,” Weiner added.

Animals should be prepared for an emergency, regardless of whether they’re small pets or larger animals.

Here are some tips to prepare your animals, big or small, for a fire from Weiner, Los Angeles County Department of Animal Care and Control and L.A. County Fire Department.

Mules and horses stand in their coral as flames burn on the ridge above Sand Canyon Road near Placerita Canyon Road in 2016. Dan Watson/The Signal

Create an emergency plan

Waiting until the last minute to think about a plan for an emergency can determine whether you and your animals can safely evacuate, so developing a plan is very important.

Know where your closest emergency sheltering location is or figure out where you are going to take your animals in case of an emergency. Research emergency rescue services in your area and know who to call in case of emergency.

“Being prepared is so important — you have to think about what you’re going to do in that situation because when the fires come, they come fast,” Weiner said. “People need to think about where they’re going to go, what they’re going to do, how they’re going to do it.”

Animal owners are much more likely to evacuate early when they have an emergency plan, according to Animal Care and Control.

If your animals are being housed a stable, talk with the manager about their emergency plan to ensure you know now how this is going to be done and where the animals are going to be taken.

Weiner said his biggest challenge when rescuing animals during an emergency is logistics, so if you’re prepared, you’re more likely to be able to evacuate safely.

And, things don’t always go as planned; so even if you’ve got an emergency plan, don’t forget to add a “plan b” as emergency sheltering locations may have restrictions and can fill up.

Jay Weiner walks with Magic to practice loading onto the trailer in preparation for an evacuation. Emily Alvarenga/The Signal

Have transportation ready

Keep trucks, trailers and vans well-maintained and ready to move. Make sure everything is operational, so if disaster strikes, you’re prepared. Gas tanks should also be kept full, particularly during Red Flag Warning days.

If you don’t have trailer space for all of your animals, have a plan to call someone, whether that’s a friend, neighbor, relative or emergency response team, that can help.

Create an evacuation kit

Building an evacuation kit for each animal will expedite the time it takes you to be ready to evacuate when a fire happens. This includes having crates, halters and ropes, identification tags, medications, and a minimum three-day water and food supply for each animal.

Making sure you can identify your animals is key in an emergency, so having halters or detachable neck bands that are marked or engraved with your contact information can ensure you’re able to locate your animals. If your animal has any medical issues or special needs, be sure to include this information on a tag and attach it to the animal, as well.

Then, be sure to store all of these items in a portable container so it’s ready to go whenever.

Practice with your animals

An animal in distress is a very different animal.

“I don’t care how well you know your animal, when a fire is coming, they know and they change,” Weiner said. “Understanding how to work with an animal that’s distressed and in a fire (is key).”

If your animals aren’t trained to load into a trailer or crate, you should practice with them in advance. Spend time loading and unloading them, so when the time comes, they are willing to do so.

You should also practice your evacuation route using your trailer to ensure it’s able to safely exit through each potential exit route from your home. 

A CHP Officer directs evacuating traffic away from the flames in Auga Dulce in July 2016. Dan Watson/The Signal

Have a communications plan

Have some emergency contacts you can reach out to that are outside of the fire zones and share your emergency plan with these contacts so they can be prepared to help.

These people will be able to help to communicate real-time information about what is going on, and can help emergency services to reach you if needed.

You should also make an effort to meet your neighbors because during an emergency, neighbors can work together to help each other.

“Don’t let the first time that you meet your neighbor be in an emergency,” Weiner said.

Though you may have created an emergency plan and practiced with your animals, when a fire comes, there are still plenty of things you need to remember to get to safety quickly and effectively.

Evacuate early

Remember, large animals take longer to evacuate, and no matter how prepared your animals are, high stress situations can scare them just as much as they scare you.

If you hear an evacuation warning, do not wait for the evacuation order to start prepping your animals.

ire Captain Blair Wein of Fire Station 126 calls for a hose line on the ridge above homes that were threatened on Cross Street in Newhall. Creating a plan ahead of time is the best way to help yourself when a disaster like this strikes. Dan Watson/The Signal

When the Fire Department issues an Evacuation Warning it means that area is under threat, so evacuating early can not only ensure that you don’t interfere with emergency response vehicles, but also that you get out safely before routes are closed or too crowded.

An evacuation order means you need to get your animals out, even if you don’t see smoke or flames.

Don’t let your animals loose

Although your first instinct may be to let your animals go, they are completely relying on you to make it out of there safely. Loose animals can pose a danger to themselves, the public and the emergency responders that have to try and catch them.

“What do horses do in a fire when you let them go? They run back to what they think is safe — they run back to the barn,” Weiner said. “Sometimes, horses will dive into a barn in flames.”

In the 1993 Old Topanga Fire, the only horse fatality was a horse that was let loose, according to Animal Care and Control.

Talk to your emergency contacts

During some emergencies, cell signals can go down, so texting and social media may be your only form of communication.

When in these situations, immediately contact your emergency contacts and tell them everything they need to know about your situation. Then, change your outgoing message so that callers know to contact them. 

You should also utilize social media and direct people to look there for updated information.

“Most times, people are there ready to help, but they can’t reach you and they don’t know what to do or that you need them,” Weiner said.

Jay Weiner stands with Magic in front of The Gentle Barn’s Animal Rescue Service command center trailer. Emily Alvarenga/The Signal

Don’t wait for help to find you

“Don’t wait for someone to come and save you, you need to do something to get yourself out of there,” Weiner said.

Instead, start packing your animals up and get them as ready as possible while you wait for someone to come get you. If you can, start evacuating what you can and leave only the ones you cannot transport.

For more information, email [email protected] or visit animalcare.lacounty.gov.

The Gentle Barn provides emergency animal evacuation and rescue transport, for more information, call 661-252-2440 or visit gentlebarn.org/animals/rescue-services.

In the event of an emergency, contact your local authorities or call 911.

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