ACT horse owners warned to prepare against high grass fire threat
|ACT horse owners warned to prepare against high grass fire threat - 3rd Jan 2017|
Emergency services are bracing for high grass fire risk this season and have warned the equestrian community to prepare against threats to horses on Canberra's fire-prone fringe.|
ACT Rural Fire Service chief officer Joe Murphy said almost 70 per cent of lush spring pasture across the ACT had dried, boosting the fuel load for fast-moving grass fire.
"I would hazard a guess that every single agistment area in the ACT is in a bushfire prone area," he said.
"Horse owners need to be more aware of fire risk and more aware of what is needed to reduce that risk to their animals."
Keryn Kefous recalls the harrowing wait for the 2003 fire to burn through Weston while her mare Fahlina was in a safe paddock with close to 20 other horses.
"We had to go, human's have to come first, but it was awful leaving them behind," she said.
She will never forget nervously walking through the smouldering paddock when it was safe to return with a biscuit of hay on her back and praying the horses were okay.
"It was shocking," she said. "Power lines were down, but the fire jumped right over the top of them and it was a miracle they didn't come to any harm."
ACT Equestrian Association president Christine Lawrence said the majority of agistments backed on to wooded or grassy reserves, and many had poor phone reception or single access roads.
Without forethought, these elements could jeopardise people's and horses' safety, so creating a specific fire plan was vital.
"When you talk to people about the 2003 bushfires, when 50 horses were lost, many don't have a memory of it because they weren't here or didn't have horses then," Ms Lawrence said.
"As time goes on it is important to make sure people understand it is a real risk. Grass fires are very dangerous. They get very hot and move very fast."
Mr Murphy said horse owners should be alert rather than alarmed about fire risk and that agistments took measures such as grouping horses together to make sure there was a closely-grazed safe zone.
The ACT government opened EPIC as a fire evacuation centre for horses last in 2013.
Agreements are in place so authorities can trigger its opening in extreme fire conditions, but horse owners are obligated to arrange transportation and food for their animals.
Mr Murphy advised owners to take early action and to foster networks with one another to monitor fire alerts and help each other to move horses and act on bushfire survival plans when necessary.
Minimising feed stored in stables, ensuring floats were cleared out and had working tyres in case of evacuation, and maintaining a low-fuel paddock, were all simple steps but lifesaving ones when fire was imminent.
"If you are going to remove a horse do it early. If you are going to leave your horse behind in a secure area make sure it is ready for that," he said.
"People take the livelihoods of their horses seriously and that is great. But in the end you have to look after number one, look after yourself."
Article By: Georgina Connery, Canberra Times