Ready for wildfire: Large animals/pets

The Rancho Santa Fe Fire Protection District’s Harmony Grove station.
The Rancho Santa Fe Fire Protection District’s Harmony Grove station.

— The following was submitted by the RSF Fire Protection District

When it comes to wildfire preparedness, planning for every member of your family is important, including your pets. Having a plan and knowing how to execute it is paramount especially if you have large animals, multiple animals or animals with special needs.

Do not wait for an evacuation order to start evacuating large animals, especially during extreme weather conditions. Road closures will most likely be mandated early in the incident, and you may not be able to get back to your property to evacuate the rest of your animals. If a Santa Ana wind event is forecasted, please be prepared by having your horse trailer connected and loaded with essentials for your large animals, including feed for a few days, water buckets, water, medications, wound supplies and supplements. Monitor applications for current fire data through PulsePoint, or other fire awareness applications.

Before an emergency occurs:

• Maintain defensible space on your property, including a 20-foot clearance along driveways and 100-feet of clearance around stalls, arenas or other turn out areas. This distance will need to be increased if the turnout area or stall is on the top of a hill, or surrounded by dense brush.

• Keep stalls or turn out areas free of manure, mulch, hay, shavings, and composting as they are flammable.

• Trees should have branches limbed up to 6-8 feet above the ground and shrubs removed from underneath trees to avoid a tree canopy fire.

• The removal of dead palm fronds, flammable species of trees, shrubs, ground covers and ornamental grasses around your home and turnout area will increase the chances of survival for your animals.

• Species such as eucalyptus, pine, bamboo, cypress, junipers, palms, sumac, rosemary, sage, acacia, fountain grass etc., should be removed within close proximity to your home and animal enclosures. This will provide a safer place for your animals in the event you cannot evacuate them. It also provides firefighters with a safer area in which to work. For more information on flammable vegetation and fire resistive alternatives, please contact the fire prevention division.

• Network with neighboring ranches that have defensible space close to you and will allow you to evacuate to their location.

• Contact your local veterinarian, humane society, or animal control to learn about resources that may be available to you in your area during a disaster situation.

• Become familiar with potential pet or large-animal evacuation centers, keeping in mind that not every shelter opens for every emergency. The media will be notified as soon as an evacuation center has been established.

• Make sure you have a crate for each of your pets along with appropriate supplies for several days. This includes litter boxes, leashes, medications, food, fresh water, etc.

• For large animals, have a plan for transporting them, whether by personal trailer, a friend’s trailer, or a hired hauler. Have a contingency plan in case you are unable to get to your property or the hauler is unavailable.

• Collaborate with your neighbors and create a plan in the event you are not home when evacuation orders are given or roads are closed.

• Have all of your animals microchipped and keep their information current. Have a picture of you with your animal as proof it is yours in the event you are separated from your animal or it is required by a facility as proof you are the rightful owner.

During an emergency:

• Get all of your pets and their necessities together and load them into your vehicles when it is time to go.

• For smaller animals, confine them to one room where it would be hard for them to hide, such as a laundry room or bathroom. This keeps them in a safe accessible place until you are ready to load them in your vehicle.

• If you need information regarding places that will accept large evacuated animals, please call San Diego County Animal Services at 619-236-2341 or the San Diego Humane Society at 619-299-7012.

• Write your contact information on your large animals, their halter or hooves using a non-toxic spray paint or a permanent marker. This will make it easier to reunite with your animals after the emergency is over.

• Firefighters are not trained in handling large animals and will not assist with loading animals into trailers.

• Heed all evacuation orders and road closures. They are in place for your safety and the safety of the emergency responders.

If you are not able to evacuate large animals:

• Do not turn large animals loose or lock them in an enclosed barn. This is hazardous for both the animals and emergency crews in the area.

• Locate a corral or arena made of fire-resistive materials surrounded by defensible space and confine them to it. Make sure they have access to water but no combustible materials inside the enclosure.

• Contact San Diego County Humane Society Emergency Response Team, 619-299-7012, and let them know what type of animals are stranded and where they are located. Their team members have special training and work with cooperating agencies as part of an incident. They will assist with removing animals from evacuation zones if possible.

• The Facebook Group “Southern California Equine Emergency Evacuation” may be another good resource.

The Fire Prevention Division of the Rancho Santa Fe Fire Protection District is available to conduct a site visit with you to evaluate your property and provide guidance to reduce the wildfire threat to your home, animals or property. Please email the Fire Prevention Division at to schedule an appointment.