December 4, 2017, I walked into my parents’ house full to bursting with my favorite Mexican food. My parents were glued to the TV, watching the news. I knew right away that something was wrong. A fast moving fire had broken out in a neighboring town. A fire that would turn out to be the largest in California history.
The next few hours were awful. Cell towers were down, and we lost contact with friends and family. We later found out that t some of them didn’t even know about the fire until they saw flames coming down the road. They turned out their horses and grabbed their garden hoses.
That night it consumed an acre of land per minute. Within 24 hours my entire town was evacuated, and over the next few days the fire created a complete circle around the valley I call home. Somehow the center, where the majority of homes and businesses stand, suffered only from smoke damage.
I’ll spare you the details, to be honest they are kind of a blur, but I ended up in a friend’s camper with my two dogs, two cats, and four chickens (they stayed in a dog crate outside). My horse and fifty others from the barn I was boarding and working at were down the road a showgrounds. I spent nearly two weeks at that showground hand walking horses, cleaning, feeding, and on constant colic watch. Some days we had four or more colic scares due to the high stress of the situation.
We left in such a hurry that all I cared about were my pets. I left all of my own belongings behind. I wore the same outfit and spent way too much money on everything that I had to leave without, from a toothbrush for myself to buckets and pitchforks for the horses. I think the local feed store may have seen their best week of sales ever that week.
This winter was another bad one for floods, fires, and mudslides in Southern California, and thank God my horses were okay, but I was on high alert, ready to go at a moment’s notice. I spent several days volunteering at shelters and helping evacuees. Once you have been in that position, you never forget the fear of losing everything.
Here is what’s important about this story: it happens all the time. You watch the news and see disasters constantly. Whether it’s a fire, flood, earthquake, or tornado, disasters come and force people to go elsewhere. What you don’t ever think about is that this could happen to you, and if it does, you probably won’t have the clarity of mind to think about what you need. In fact, you might not have the time to gather everything you need. One of my friends lives very near where the fire broke out, and they had 6 minutes from the moment they heard there was a fire until the fire was at their door.
During this experience, I made a list of all the things I wish I had. I vowed to myself that after this was over, I would pack all of these things away in a trailer. Hopefully I would never need them, but if I did, I’d at least have peace of mind, knowing that I was prepared. Below is my list. Hopefully this list is helpful to you in preparing your emergency kit, and hopefully you NEVER have to use it.
· Water buckets (one per horse)
· Hay bags
· Tie line (in case you can’t get to a place with stalls)
· Stud chain (horses are hard to control when they smell smoke)
· Lunge whip and line
· Extra halter and lead rope
· Wheelbarrow (it seemed like every other evacuee forgot theirs too, and every tack store and hardware store in the area was sold out!)
· Water for people and horses
· Human snacks
· Acepromazine or rompun (for the horses that are so scared they become a danger to themselves or others)
· Eyewash (smoke and eyes do not mix)
· Duct tape (you can fix anything with duct tape and baling twine!)
· Medical history for all horses (in case owner can’t be present)
· Important phone numbers (vet, farrier, horse’s owner, etc)
· Bolt snaps (one per potential stall)
· Baling twine (this one needs no explanation)
· Grooming supplies
· Wire cutters
· Radio (there are some long days, plus you can get the news)
· Solar or car phone charger
· Paper and pens