There are several things you can do to minimize the impact of fire.
“In a lot of cases, it’s like a risk management process,” said Brad Andres, director of emergency management services with Alberta Agriculture and Forestry. “Ask yourself about on-farm safety and identify the risks that could really affect your operation.”
Being prepared with an emergency action plan is a wise investment, he said.
“The information in an emergency plan that is specific to each individual farm operation will help to ensure the safety of family members, employees and livestock, and have the added benefit of minimizing financial loss and property damage.”
When it comes to wildfires and livestock, there are three options, said Andres.
“You can shelter in place for as long as it is safe, you can try and evacuate your animals to a safer area, or, as a last resort, you can free your animals and let them fend for themselves.”
If you are planning to evacuate, it will require a lot of time and resources. Animals may need to be herded to another piece of nearby property or loaded on transporters and moved to a more distant location.
“The challenge with evacuation is that you will have to make the decision to do so a long time before the fireman is knocking on your door telling you to leave,” he said.
When the firefighter does come and there is no time, freeing your animals may be the only option you have.
“Open the gates and give the animals a chance to survive on their own. Give them access to areas that have food, water and space to allow their instincts to help them avoid the fire. At this stage, you are evacuating and protecting your family first, so you can come back later and fix things up or rebuild, depending on the damage.”
There are some excellent mobile sources for further information, said Andres.
“There’s a wildfire mobile app that will give you up-to-date information on fire bans and current fires in your area. As well, the Alberta Emergency Alert app is another communities use to post evacuation and warning instructions.”
Additional information can be found by going to agriculture.alberta.ca.
You can also take measures to help fireproof your yard.
“This means looking at your operation and building zones of protection,” said Andres. “You can do simple things like cutting the grass and getting rid of the underbrush. Doing so will remove fuel from any fire approaching your buildings or even stopping small fires in your yard from growing.”
Those efforts should include pruning branches; cleaning dead leaves out of gutters and under porches and decks; and situating the burn barrel away from trees and other combustibles.
Having ample water on hand is another way to manage fire risks.
“This is especially important in dry conditions,” said Andres. “You need enough water to put out a small fire or soak down your yard in the event of fire coming from the outside.”
It’s also vital everyone in the operation knows what the plan is, he said.
“Often when a fire hits, not everyone is at home. That means everyone needs to know at least the critical parts of the plan. What are you going to do when it’s time to evacuate? Turn the power off, open the gates to let the animals run out into the pasture, and then make sure everyone leaves.”
Also, follow the instructions of local authorities, he added.
“They are there to protect you. When they say it’s time to evacuate, do so. If they say it’s time to shelter in place, do so, but think through your plan and prepare to evacuate if need be.”
You should also have a list of emergency telephone numbers that includes employees, neighbours, veterinarian, poison control, Alberta Farm Animal Care, local animal shelters, and transportation resources. Include an out-of-town contact person who is unlikely to be affected by the same emergency. Make sure that everyone on the farm knows where this list is.
Additional FireSmart resources — including a guide for protecting your home and yard — can be found at wildfire.alberta.ca.