Oregon: Unprecedented Wildfires Force Equine Evacuations

Oregon is the latest state to be under siege by wildfires, as high temperatures and strong winds have fanned the flames of more than 35 active fires that have destroyed more than 5 million acres as of Thursday morning, according to the Oregon Office of Emergency Management. The fires spread relentlessly across Western Oregon from the Cascade Mountains to the Pacific Coast, a region not accustomed to extreme wildfire activity. Horsemen and women in the area scrambled to evacuate, and emergency facilities quickly reached capacity by Tuesday, the day Governor Kate Brown declared a national emergency and said during a press briefing the fires could lead to the greatest loss of property and human lives in state history. “Everything is so dry and windy that there’s just fires everywhere,” said Kim Mosiman of Sound Equine Options, a Gresham, Oregon, nonprofit that focuses on ending the cycle of abuse, neglect, abandonment, and suffering for horses by partnering with law enforcement agencies in Oregon and Washington. “The problem … that makes it so different from the others that we have helped on is this isn’t just a fire—it’s so many fires.” Mosiman is no stranger to wildfire evacuations. She played an integral role in assisting with equine evacuations during the Eagle Creek Fire that swept through the Columbia River Gorge and burned more than 50,000 acres in September 2017. She coordinated transportation, shelter, and feed as more than 500 horses were evacuated. For her efforts, she received awards from the American Red Cross, Oregon Humane Society, and Oregon Veterinary Medical Association. This time the wildfires forced Mosiman to evacuate 10 horses from Sound Equine Option’s training barn in Troutdale, Oregon, in Multnomah County and assist with the evacuation of multiple Sound Equine Option horses in foster homes threatened by the fires in Clackamas County.

Mosiman set up emergency shelter for 50 horses at Sound Equine Options on Monday night and was quickly at capacity. DevonWood Equestrian Center, a dressage facility in Sherwood, Oregon, opened 200 stalls for evacuees and was full by Tuesday afternoon, according to its Facebook page. The story was the same at fairgrounds and show facilities throughout the area.

“Literally everything is full right now, so that’s my job this morning is to figure out where we’re taking animals,” Mosiman said. “And that’s just proving to be a little trickier this morning.” The job was made more difficult by a lack of data on road and fire conditions. Despite her participation in the multicounty Regional Disaster Preparedness Organization, Mosiman was unable to verify road closure, detours, or dangerous routes, as the fires were moving too quickly for officials to keep up. By Wednesday, many horsemen were facing a new issue. The fires had moved so quickly and spread so much that the places that were initially safe to evacuate to were suddenly in the line of fire. “Part of the problem is that you haul your horses to the city next door, and then they get a fire. And then people are having to re-evacuate their horses,” Mosiman said. “Now we’re getting in the pickle that we’re going to have to haul quite a distance away to get horses safe.” Mosiman has been able to pitch in and help others because her own evacuation plan was prepared in advance and activated as soon as the threat of bad storms hit the area. Weather forecasters are predicting the winds will shift later this week, which should bring much needed cooler air of the Pacific to help slow the fires and aid containment efforts. Until then, Mosiman urges horse owners to make an evacuation plan and be ready to use it. Turning a horse loose to fend for itself in the face of wildfires should only be an absolute last resort, she said, though social media pages were seeing stories of loose horses followed by the oft-shared advice to write a phone number on a hoof.