A blackened frame is all that remains of the barn that served as shelter to a dozen animals after Friday’s fire at Napanee’s Sandy Pines Wildlife Centre (SPWC), which claimed the lives of a pig and rabbit.
On Monday it was business as close to usual as possible for the animal rehabilitation facility as they pick up the pieces and assess the damage.
“Hay and straw is what we need most because that all burned,” said Leah Birmingham, assistant director and veterinary technician with SPWC. “This time of year it was likely around 300 bales of hay and 200 bales of straw that burned. We need to replenish that stock. Our neighbours across the way have offered us space in one of their outbuildings that’s not being used. Marg Isbester secured us a flatbed truck that all of that can be stored on so at some point we can potentially move it out.”
Because they don’t have any machinery to move hay, they’re restricted to just being able to accept square bales.
Both Birmingham and director Sue Meech say that the public’s outpouring has been outstanding to help them in the recovery efforts.
“It’s been overwhelming to say the least and heart warming,” said Birmingham. “It’s definitely kept our spirits up here. Our volunteers, so many of them are coming in extra days and helping extra hours.”
No cause for the fire, which broke out around 11 a.m. on Friday, has been determined, though the staff at SPWC suspect it was electrical.
“Our assumption is that it had to be electrical,” said Birmingham. “It being a barn you’ve got heat lamps to the rabbit that was in there that perished and a heat lamp to the pig stall. That would be the assumption at this point. A lot of people are pondering if it’s the arson to the barns that have been happening. We think that’s unlikely because access to our barn isn’t the easiest for most people.”
Birmingham credited the fire departments from Napanee, Stone Mills and Deseronto that were able to limit the damage to just the one barn, as well as staff members Tess Miller and Julia Evoy who helped get pigs, horses, goats, sheeps and donkeys out of the barn.
“Pretty dedicated animal lovers,” Birmingham said of the staff. “We were able to keep them from harm. They really wanted to go back in but the smoke was just overwhelming at that point.”
Try as they might, the staff couldn’t convince Georgina, a 400 pound pot-belly pig, to exit the barn. On the fortunate side, Percy, the pig who has served as an unofficial mascot of the centre during its open houses, was able to escape.
“He was stressed and a little singed, but he was one of the first out the door,” said Birmingham.
In true SPWC fashion, once it was deemed safe, the staff returned to work and actually admitted four new animal patients on the same day as the fire.
“We never stop here,” said Birmingham. “The building that we primarily work out of wasn’t affected….We’re always here. If we’re not, there’s nowhere for this wildlife to go and it can be a death sentence for them.”
On Monday volunteers were already at the centre, building temporary shelter for the animals. Come spring they may have to look to re-home some of the animals while the rebuild takes place, but that is yet to be determined. Several community members have already stepped up to say they’d offer a home for the displaced animals if need be.
“We have no idea at this point how expensive this is going to be,” added Birmingham. “We do have insurance, but we’ll find out how much insurance is going to cover. The positive light I look at is I hope we’ll build something that suits both Sue’s needs with farm animals and the aquatic centre potentially included in that which we’ve needed for awhile with all the water birds we take in. Especially in cold weather like this.”
Birmingham says the next few months figure to be a challenge and stretch the always limited budget even more. This is just the start of the season where they tend to get a lot of swans dropped off, which they would have housed in the barn.