Are You Prepared for When Disaster Strikes?

wildfire with livestock in foreground
Photo by: Tom Reichner / Shutterstock.com

A Re-cap on CCA’s Wildfire Safety & Livestock Evacuation Workshop

By Audrey Hill, Feature Contributor, Valley Ag Voice

Audrey Hill
Audrey Hill

On June 23, 2021, The California Cattleman’s Association hosted a virtual workshop entitled “Emergency Response, Livestock Access & Evacuation + Safety Considerations for Wildfires.” The meeting was directed to mainly northern California counties where wildfires and wildfire season continue to hit harder and harder. Kirk Wilbur, meeting director and California Cattleman’s Association (CCA) Vice President of Government Affairs, opened the meeting stating, “California fire season is already underway as you are no doubt aware, but if previous years are any indication, the worst is yet to come.”

The meeting featured three speakers who provided a cohesive understanding of how to effectively inform our local and state governments of any wildfires, how to stay prepared with the correct resources, and how to act fast and efficiently when going behind fire lines to rescue commercial livestock. Speakers Todd Smith, ESF-11 Coordinator for US region 9, Sean Norman, Butte County Fire representative and Battalion Chief, and Tracy Schohr, Livestock and Natural Resources Advisor for UC Cooperate Extension, also informed attendees about developing emergency plans and responses to wildfires, practicing staying alert and knowing who to call when disasters strikes. Mentions of Butte Ag Pass Program and Butte County Disaster Access Pass were discussed in detail with info on how to apply, acquire training, and obtain these passes that would potentially allow access behind fire lines to retrieve cattle from commercial operations.

Specifically, each speaker had a list of things to do when wildfires strike. Todd Smith gave this list to follow and gave his own contact info if help is needed with retrieving wildfire emergency resources in his domain (California, Arizona, Nevada, Hawaii and Guam): +1 (970) 631-3279, Todd.L.Smith@USDA.gov.

Make a list of available resources, human and equipment.

Know Who to Call and in what order. Starting with City and County Emergency Managers. Then, Ag Commissioners and Animal Control, then wildlife service professionals within reach.

Get in contact with the CDFA CARES Plan and Asha Raj, ESF-11 Point of Contact and Emergency Management Coordinator at State of California, to find any available resources. (Her contact information is Asha.Raj.CDFA@CA.gov, but should only be contacted in the case of an emergency.)

He also gave a warning that the number one issue always on a post disaster is communication failure and to reach out to the government about any wildfire not already reported. 

Sean Norman discussed his focus in the field and advice after his 28 years of experience. He greatly stressed the need for situational awareness at all times if a wildfire is nearby, not only if behind fire lines.

 “No matter how familiar you are with a piece of ground and the weather up there, what we’re seeing is fire behavior so dramatic, and the fires are moving so quickly [since] the fuels are so dry,” Norman stated, “that even firefighters with decades of experience are being caught in places because they just didn’t anticipate it.”

He spoke about L.C.E.S. (Lookout, Communication, Escape Route, Safety Zone) and the saying “Fire goes where water flows.” Even normal fluxes in weather, such as thunderstorms, can cause extremely irregular and deadly fire movements. For those cattlemen and women responsible for going behind fire lines when their cattle need to be rescued there are a few additional risk factors. Upward slopes burn quickly, power lines go down frequently and can electrify barbed wire, cattle guards, gates, water and even powder fire retardant. Not only this but thick smoke can ground a power line, making any nearby area dangerous. This demands keeping situational awareness and effective movements of utmost importance.

The meeting’s last speaker, Tracy Schohr, spoke about the importance of being prepared before wildfires strike. For example, small things that can greatly affect a building’s “save-ability” are tree limbs overhanging the roof, birds’ nests under the eaves, pine needles in rain gutters and wood mulch and shrubs touching the wooden panels of a building. She also described the process one would need to take in order to effectively remove their livestock. After the fire lights and an emergency is declared by the state, one should notify the Ag. Department and UC Cooperative Extension about receiving resources. When it comes time to remove cattle, Sheriff/CAL-FIRE will decide if it’s safe for pass-holders to go behind fire lines and remove their livestock safely. However, it is important to note that training and receiving a agriculture/cattle removal pass from your local government will not ensure your clearance through fire lines if the Sheriff/CAL-FIRE deem it unsafe.

Her emergency contact list:

County Ag Department

UC Cooperative Extension

County Sheriff (for Non-Emergencies)

County or Closest Cal-Fire Office

Veterinarian Contacts, Haulers and Neighbors

She also mentioned the importance of having a truck and stationary packing list.

After extensive discussion about Ag Passes and programs developed by counties with histories shaped by wildfires that are granting cattle operators access behind fire lines, Assembly Bill 1103 carried by assembly member Megan Dawley was mentioned. This bill would, as put by Kirk Wilbur, “streamline and facilitate adoption of these ag pass programs throughout the state. Those would still be under the local control of the counties, but this bill would do three main things.” Those three things summarized as: Establish minimal requirements for an ag pass, provide statewide training programs for ranchers, and help ensure cattlemen and women have the opportunity to retrieve their cattle. The CCA is working to get this bill passed in hopes that less harm would come to cattlemen and women, and equally as important keep livestock protected, while making the process safer for everyone.