Emergency Preparedness - Fire
By Wanda Twellman

Posted 4-23-07

Several years ago, I read an article in "Rabbits USA" about a rabbit barn burning down. This article has haunted me for years and I guess it's going to haunt me the rest of my life. It was a barn in Colorado and by the time it was found, all the breeder, her family and the firemen could do was stand there and watch and listen as the rabbits trapped in the barn screamed in terror and pain from the intense heat before they succumbed to the smoke or shock and died.

The breeder had to be physically restrained from trying to get to and rescuing her beloved rabbits and everyone witnessing and hearing this horror had tears on their faces. Believe me, this lady was a lot more descriptive than I have been here and for months, I had nightmares of those poor rabbits.

But it is said that many times, good can come from the bad. For one thing, this unfortunate breeder was indunuated with offers of replacement stock, cages and equipment from clear across the country. What a wonderful example of the warmth and caring of the rabbit community of the USA. But also, her painful and agonizingly detailed description of what she went through that day made a lot of people stop and think about what might happen if the same thing occurred in THEIR barns!!

I know it did me. But my mind didn't just stop with the thought of a fire, it moved on to cover other types of emergencies such as an earthquake, tornado, micro-burst winds, etc. Then it moved on to still more emergencies such as floods, wild-fires, and hurricanes. And I wondered how many people had ever stopped to consider what they would do with their animals in these various types of emergency situations.

I started asking around and to my dismay, I discovered that not that many people had even thought of what to do in case there was a fire in their barn much less considering what to do in case of any one of a number of natural emergencies. So I started writing my Emergency Preparedness posts on both ShowBunnyList and The Rabbit Web.

I can only hope that my posts over the last several years have at least made some people stop and think of what they could/would do in emergencies. Now I have been asked if I could combine much of this information into one article so this is my attempt to respond to your kind requests.

FIRE: Most of us have our rabbits in some kind of shelter that we refer to as a 'barn' whether it actually fits that designation or not. But what else have we got in that barn?? Is there a reliable water source out there? Do we store our feed out there? Our hay or straw? Nest boxes? Empty feed bags? Bags of wood shavings? Do we have electricity out there? Professionally installed or just extension cords haphazardly run out there? How clean do we keep our 'barn'?

The first thing to do is arrange for a steady and reliable source of water in the barn. Run a water line down to the rabbitry and put in a no-frost faucet. In the winter, immediately drain the hose after using it so that there will be no frozen ice in it that would prevent you from using it in an emergency. If you are in a position where you can't run a water line into the rabbitry (much like me), make sure that you can at least run a hose to it from somewhere. In my case, I use a 'Y' hose connection attached to the water lines for a washing machine which I don't have because of the iron content in my water (turns everything red). This is what I use for a water source in the winter.

During warm weather, I have an outside water faucet which is used. When you stop and think about it, I am sure you can figure out some way to run a steady source of water out to your rabbitry, especially just in case of a fire emergency.

Next, remove as much flammable material from the actual barn premises as possible. Hay/straw, feed bags, empty nest boxes, etc. Anything that will quickly catch fire and burn. Move them to a close by storage area but not so close that if there was a fire, it would easily burn and spread. If you keep your rabbits in an actual barn, of the big red cavernous kind, store the flammable materials as far from the rabbits as possible. Yeah, it's going to make you walk a bit more but what is more important? Your convenience or your rabbits lives?

One thing NEVER to move too far from the rabbits are the carriers. In the case of any emergency evacuation of your rabbits, you will need those carriers close to hand. The little bit of wood shavings normally in the carrier won't mean a hill of beans in a fire situation.

If you have to, be prepared to double up rabbits in a carrier. Believe me, they are going to be so scared that they won't even have time to think about fighting. And usually won't have space for it either. Still don't have enough carriers for all your rabbits?? Then use anything that you may have on hand that will hold a rabbit or two.

Empty bird cages, aquariums, pet taxi's, live traps, anything like that that will hold a rabbit even if for a little while. Try to figure out what you can use in advance and try to keep it close to your rabbits. In an emergency situation, you won't have time to think 'Where did I see that old bird cage??'. You may only have minutes to get your animals out. Speed is of the essence.

While talking about fire, lets touch on WILD FIRES. Wildfires are totally different animal than a house or barn fire. They are totally unreliable and totally unpredictable. They twist and turn, follow the landscape or skip over valleys and jump from hill top to hill top. They split and spread in two or more different directions. They can generate their own winds of varying speed that swirl above them and carry embers and sparks in all directions and all distances starting new fires in totally unexpected places which could include your own back yard.

I am sure that by now, we've all seen and/or heard about wildfires raging somewhere in the U.S. On the news, the reporters talk about the thousands of houses lost. They keep talking about the fires suddenly switching directions and having to give people evacuation notices of less than 10 minutes. And be aware that in the case of these kind of emergency evacuation orders, you will NOT be allowed to take your animals with you unless they are right there at your side.

So what about those animals?? Horses, goats, dogs, cats, rabbits, guinea pigs, fish or birds?? Keeping track of the news is of utmost importance in wildfire season, especially if you live in an area that is prone to wildfires or already has a wildfire burning near it so that you know where they are in relation to your location.

If one is close, please don't wait until a last minute evacuation order to get your animals out of there. Be prepared and take action before it's needed. If you can evacuate them, make sure you take at least a weeks worth of feed and your water with them in order to help alleviate stress from being moved.

That's for any animal that you evacuate, not just the rabbits. The one other thing you might want to send with them is either hard copies of all your pedigrees or a CD/tape including them and any other important information you may need.

After an emergency preparedness posting a couple of years ago, one lady posted back that her family had done a timed evacuation just to see how long it would take them to load up all their animals and get out. It took them over 45 minutes. That's a lot longer than the 10 or 15 minute evacuation notice some people get.

Last year, I heard on the news of some families who escaped their already burning houses with only the bed clothing on their backs. Wildfire season is rapidly approaching. Start now trying to find a safe area to take your animals to.

There are places there to take them, it's up to you to find them. Talk to other breeders around you both near and far. See if you can make arrangements with them to bring your animals to their place if it's safe or for them to bring their animals to your place if it's safe. Then, if by some terrible chance you end up in the potential path of a wild fire, you will already know where to take them.

If you believe that your place is in potential danger, move them. Don't wait. Maybe you'll feel foolish if you move them then it pans out you didn't need to but, believe me, that's a lot better than going back home and finding scorched carcasses in kennels, stalls, cages, or the remains of your house cause you didn't move them early. You'll never get over that sick feeling when you find what's left of them after a fire.

If you aren't in a fires twisted and convoluted path and you can help out by taking in other peoples animals, let the authorities know that you have room for so many animals, what kinds of animals, etc. Let them know you're ready and willing to help shelter these animals. If you have friends that are in the fire area, call them and beg them to bring their animals to you and the safety of your place.

Help each other out folks. Someday you may need their help. I don't know about anyone else but I sure don't want to hear any more stories about animals that were trapped in their cages or kennels or homes and that burned to death. I STILL have nightmares about that article and it's been several years since I read it!!!

If you can't get your animals evacuated, at least take the time to turn them loose so that they can have a chance to escape on their own. It's much kinder than leaving them to roast in their cages/stalls/kennels/etc. with NO chance to escape.

Something else to consider when we're talking about wild fires is smoke and/or ash. The smoke and/or ash from a wild fire can be so dense that a person will find it almost impossible to breath and the sun can be entirely blacked out. People at least have the option of putting a wet handkerchief or towel over their noses which will help them breath in heavy smoke, at least until they are able to escape the smoke.

But what about our animals? If it's hard for you to breath, believe me, it's going to be hard for them to breath too. If there's anyway possible, evacuate the animals from the path of the smoke and/or ash. But if it's not practical to evacuate them, perhaps, if they are smaller animals, you can at least take them in the house with you where there is SOME form of air filtration.

While we're talking about smoke and/or ash, let's talk about the one very live and active volcano we have on the mainland of the US. Mt. St. Helens. Apparently, she's still pretty restless and the threat of another eruption is not that small.

In fact, many vulcanologist (those who study volcanos) say it's not a matter of 'if' but actually a matter of 'when'! And there is no way of foretelling just what kind of eruption that would be. Lava, steam, ash??

If you live in the Pacific north-west, you should take this active volcano into consideration while formulating your emergency preparedness plans. Even if you DON'T live in the Pacific north-west, keep in mind that the prevailing jet stream pattern across the continental US/Canada is west to east and to a lesser degree north to south. That jet stream can carry ash particles for unbelievably long distances. Volcanic ash can be extremely fine and cause breathing problems for humans so that means it can cause problems for animals as well.

If St. Helens erupts again and there are down wind ash warnings posted, don't forget to try to take some steps to protect your animals just as you would take to protect your own lungs. Also, depending on your location, ash can quickly build up to enough weight to collapse roofs.

While watching your own roof, don't forget the roof(s) of your barn(s). Oh, and don't forget that Mt. St. Helens isn't the ONLY volcano in the contentential US. She may be the only one that's really active right now but most of the Cascade Mountain range consist of volcano's that are considered to be only geologically 'sleeping'.

That's the term they use when a volcano isn't actively erupting but the potential is still there. Let's not forget the VERY active caldera that forms Yellowstone Park either. There are a lot of weird things happening in THAT particular hot spot as well that have geologists worried.

*posted by permission*


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