I’ve never had to deal with a fire or any major household emergency for that matter. I can only imagine the chaos, confusion and shock that folks must go through. If you’ve got a coop fire on your hands you will probably be dealing with injured birds on top of your own stuff.
If your birds are lucky enough to survive a fire they will most likely have a variety of issues to get through in order to make a full recovery.
I’m very appreciative that I was able to connect with Jamie Tindell, who shared her experience of a major coop fire at her poultry rescue and breeding centre for rare breed chickens in Florida.
In February 2019, she came home to find that a panel heater had malfunctioned and set the whole aviary on fire. Of the nearly 80 birds housed at that time, seven were killed in the fire and three died later from their injuries; 32 had varying degrees of burns, four of whom required toes to be amputated. All were treated for smoke inhalation.
The care of those birds required a Herculean effort on Jamie’s part: she didn’t sleep for the first 60 hours and then worked day and night for the next two months caring for her patients. I’m afraid that most folks faced with that situation would be out of their depth and would opt to euthanize their birds. Thankfully she didn’t and thankfully most of us have small flocks, and if we did experience a fire, the care required would be on a much smaller scale.
“Nothing ever is really enough when it’s happening in your own backyard. The best defense is a very well stocked first aid kit and a written check list inside because when something bad happens the birds aren’t the only ones in shock and we are no good to them if we can’t get moving into action quickly.” – Jamie Tindell
If you ever need practical advice for what to do for your birds in the aftermath of a fire here are some tips.
Regardless of what injuries they might have sustained they’ll all be suffering from shock. Once you’ve done basic triage to assess their injuries they should be placed in clean, dark crates in an area that is as quiet as possible. Bedding needs to soft and sanitary that won’t stick to any burns or blisters.
Birds have to be gently bathed with Hibicleanse and blown dry (low setting) to remove soot, debris and blood. Baby aspirin (30-50mg of liquid or half 81mg tablet) can be given for pain, but you will probably need prescription medications like Morphine for serious injuries. Pain management can be tricky because of complications with kidney function and respiration so, needless to say, you’ll need the support of a good avian veterinarian.
Burns may differ in terms of severity so there are various methods of treatment:
- Minor burns can easily be treated with a topical antibiotic ointment.
- Deeper burns, especially on the feet and legs, require wrapping after ointment is applied.
- To create a burn wrap take strips of rolled gauze and soak them in Pepto-Bismol (the active ingredients are used in hospitals) and place on affected areas, holding them in place with Vetrap.
- Wraps must be changed daily.
- Corona ointment is also helpful once wraps are no longer necessary, as well as for minor burns.
- Some burns can be deep enough to require amputation of toes or even feet, so be vigilant in watching for color changes in tissue around the burns.
If birds survive a fire they may die later of smoke inhalation and exposure to toxins and chemicals: soot, carbon monoxide, cyanide gas, nitrogen and methane. There can be injuries to the upper and lower airways and oxygen deprivation. Birds are more susceptible to inhaled toxins than mammals because of the greater surface area of their respiratory systems.
Airway issues generally peak within 12–24 hours after exposure.
Birds can inhale both steam and particles resulting in these symptoms:
- blistering and/or edema (accumulation of fluids)
- changed voice
- decreased breath sounds
- muscle weakness
- neurological issues (due to oxygen deprivation)
All birds affected by fire should be treated for smoke inhalation.
- The best course of treatment is fresh water and applesauce to eat, which reduces inflammation in the airways.
- Birds exhibiting raspy breathing can be given a marble size dose of coconut oil 3-4 times a day to ease symptoms.
- Mild herbal tea can ease certain symptoms with respiration, as well as shock. Herbal only NO caffeine (mint, chamomile, etc.)
Cleanliness of the birds’ environment is paramount to managing a successful outcome.
- Crates should be cleaned at least twice daily.
- Birds’ bodies must be kept clean.
- All birds with deep burns should be given broad-spectrum antibiotics as a precaution against infection.
I’m hoping that this story is a cautionary tale, but will never be directly relevant to you. The important thing is prevention. If you have any source of electricity in or near your coop read this. Assemble a well stocked first aid kit and research sources of medical support now, in case you ever need it.
Here are some photos of Jamie’s aviary, rebuilt after the fire.
Credits: Jamie Tindell and Wings And Things Poultry Rescue a small private rescue with two primary aims: to provide a safe, comfortable, loving home where they are provided the highest quality diet and health care; and to provide education on topics such as health care, sanitary housing options, breed conservation and animal welfare reform (especially as it relates to poultry).
If you’ve experienced a coop fire and have advice or photos you’d like to contribute to this post please feel free to contact me.