The outbreak of wildfires in various areas all across Texas has put horse owners on high alert. With high winds rolling in as a result of Tropical Storm Lee, the fires began cropping up on Sept. 4. So far, the hardest-hit area has been Bastrop County, east of Austin, where as of Tuesday, more than 30,000 acres had burned and at least 600 homes had been lost.
However, most equines from that rural community have been moved to safer areas, thanks to immediate response to evacuation orders and well-organized transportation efforts by volunteer nonresidents with trailers.
“The outpouring of support from the horse community has been overwhelming,” said Dr. Kristi Underwood of Elgin Veterinary Hospital, located west of Bastrop, which has taken in 60 equine evacuees, several of which have been treated for smoke-related respiratory issues and one for severe hoof burns. “We’ve received countless calls from Austin and other places with offers of trailers, feed, pastures and stalls. Everyone wants to do whatever they can do keep the horses safe.”
Underwood said she’s keeping busy making barn calls to farms that have taken in evacuated livestock, where the effects of smoke inhalation is the most common issue among the horses she’s treating.
In the rural community of Magnolia, north of Houston, more than 1,600 acres had burned over Labor Day weekend. The fires were fueled by 40-mile-an-hour winds and prompted the evacuation of 4,000 homes. But so far, a string of large Magnolia-based horse farms owned by hunter/jumper riders and trainers has been spared, according to Peter Pletcher, who owns a 70-acre facility in the area.
“The fires have sort of surrounded us,” said Pletcher. “It’s been crazy, but we’re still safe and sound. They evacuated everyone within five miles of us. We’re just waiting to see if the wind picks up and changes direction, but it sounds like they’re getting the fires contained.”
Pletcher said if the need arises for evacuation of the farm’s horses, he’s received numerous offers from Houston-area horsemen and shipping companies that are standing by to quickly show up with trailers. “Everyone’s being incredibly helpful,” said Pletcher, who remains on bed rest as he recovers from a slipped disc.
Statewide, nearly 120,000 acres and more than 700 homes have burned in the wildfires. Continued dry conditions, low humidity and the possibility of more powerful, shifting winds mean that the threat of new fires remains.
The state’s severe drought has already been a months-long source of stress for Texas horse owners, who’ve been dealing all summer with the mounting challenge of keeping hayfields adequately irrigated and rising costs for those who have to purchase hay from outside entities. Adding to the misery has been record-breaking heat, with many regions experiencing temperatures well over 100 degrees for up to 70 days prior to Labor Day.