Chicken Coop Fire - Moving On After Tragedy

I killed them all.

Eighteen faithful hens, some very old, from our original, first flock.

One beautiful Buff Orpington rooster: Captain Fluffybutt!

It was all my fault. I cared too much! February 15, 2015: it was really cold,  about 5 degrees. It was also really windy, and it had been dry for a long time. Surely they needed an additional heat source, right? At least enough to keep their water from freezing?

Sure, I thought. So I mounted the heat lamp lower to the ground than usual, closer to the waterer.

Big mistake...

chicken coop fire

I hadn't properly appreciated the danger of sparking a chicken coop fire with the heat lamp I was trying to use to help our beloved flock.

My family had enjoyed having a backyard flock of chickens for about 6 years. We had kept some beautiful birds, lost some wonderful pets, integrated “rescue” hens, and had an “eco-loop” system for our micro-farm that included the amazing compost produced by these birds. Our chickens were an integral part of our lives. We loved them, cared for them, and they cared for us.

hens from our first flock, lost in the chicken coop fire

Some of our wonderful hens!

Rooster from our frst flock, lost in the chicken coop fire

Captain Fluffybutt - so regal!

But that night at about 6:30 pm there was a knock on the door when we were just sitting down to eat supper:

“Mr. Tim, your coop is on fire!”

Our Chicken Coop Fire

We ran outside to see the chicken coop fire: it was completely engulfed in flames. It was so hot; it was huge. I never knew the power of fire until that moment. I realized that I couldn’t even get close enough to open the coop door without getting burned myself.

There was nothing I could do. I was helpless. All I could do is watch. No hose nearby, not enough time to turn on the water and drag the hose up to the coop. The water in the water harvesting barrels was frozen solid. But something had to be done; if we didn’t put out that fire quickly, the house would catch on fire, and that was unthinkable.

chicken coop fire melted the siding on the house

The siding on our house was lost, but thankfully the house itself did not catch on fire.

All those thoughts took a microsecond in my head. I grabbed my cell phone and dialed 911. We’re just a mile from our local fire station. We heard the sirens getting closer---slowly---and louder---slowly---and we watched the siding on the house melt, watched the chicken coop fire spread across the ground toward the house. I stomped on the smaller, creeping flames. How long does it take a fire truck to travel ONE mile???

An eternity, when your life is going down in flames.

My traumatized kids were herded out of the house into our van. We moved the van into a neighbor’s driveway and tried to warm it up as fast as possible. My 5 adopted kids - each with their own adoption-related issues and diagnoses to deal with---watched it all from across the street. What were they thinking?

FINALLY the big red trucks arrived. And after some haggling with the hoses, the chicken coop fire was out in seconds.

Firefighters are heroes. They literally saved the day.

chicken coop fire: putting it out

Steam rises as firefighters begin putting out the fire.

That was the end of the fire, but the beginning of a year and a half---even 2 years---of cleaning up, rebuilding our lives, and beginning again with chickens. I haven’t even really gardened since then. Not like before.

Even writing this blog is an act of rebuilding. Sure, we got our new flock of chicks from My Pet Chicken in August of 2016 and they’re amazing: 13 colorful birds from 13 different breeds and colors... but do I LOVE them like I loved that old flock?

Honestly?  No. At least not yet.

It’s painful; it hurts. I can HAVE chickens, but if I REINVEST myself, I open myself up to more pain: the pain of loss.

Love = potential pain. It’s easier to run from love, to harden, to avoid, to say, “Those are my wife’s chickens,” or "they’re just birds," and run from vulnerability.

But when we do that, something inside us dies. That long-dead chicken coop fire can kill a still kill a part of YOU, too.

If you let it. And I won’t. I can’t!

Writing this blog post is part of the healing. Just putting the pain in print is cathartic. I’ve resisted writing it for a year. A YEAR of wondering, why can’t I blog about chickens? Why do I feel blocked?  I’ve helped hundreds of customers with THEIR love of chickens for over a year, but I’ve been afraid to really care about these birds again for myself.

Until now.

I’m writing this blog to say I’m starting again. Starting again to love my flock, love the living things around me, in spite of the fear of loss, the potential pain.

I’m starting again. Today.

Our new set-up, with beautiful birds from My Pet Chicken!

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5 years ago

So sorry for you loss. It is such a gut wrenching feeling. We went through the almost exact thing last year. The only difference was that we were woke up at 5 am by people knocking on our front and back doors trying to let us know our coop was on fire. I ran out back and just stood there in tears thinking of all my feather babies and what there last moments were like. I've had a lot of anti heat lamp conversations with chicken owners since then. If I can keep one from going through that I will be great full!

5 years ago

Sad story, but a good reminder to be extra careful. I am glad he is going to have more chickens. I think they are the best doctors in the world. They listen and then they always tell you the right thing to do

5 years ago

Thanks so much for writing this Tim, it's so tough to deal with losses in our flocks. Reading about your tragedy also helps shore up my willpower to avoid the heat lamp during these cold snaps of weather.

Your flock and new setup is lovely 🙂

Alice Severson
5 years ago

So sorry, but, we all make mistakes in least it was not a human life.

5 years ago

I am so sorry for your loss. I am in the process of getting my own flock. My mother has 8 chickens and they are all pets. All named with different personality. I can only imagine what you have gone through. I wish you peace.

5 years ago

HUGS. I can only imagine your pain but you are is better to love than not to because of the fear of losing them. Good for you for starting over. There are too many feathered babies that need the love you have to give them.

Constance Brons
5 years ago

So sorry about your loss. I had a similar feeling when my ckickens were killed by a red fox, which I didn't know was around last year. It was my first year of raising chickens in my backyard.

Christa Shannon
5 years ago

I'm so sorry. My chickens are like my children, my heart goes out to you.

5 years ago

I'm sorry for your loss. This is a very important message that you've gotten out there and it may very well be an important preventive for someone else.

Cynthia Brown
5 years ago

I lost my 130 year old historical barn in the central Hill Country of Texas one year ago due to a red bulb heat lamp problem. Just 3 chicks were under that bulb but I also had 9 ducks in there. I checked the lamp and the chicks 3 times before I went to bed at midnight but something happened and at 5:45 A.M. it was almost fully engulfed in flames. I was able to get the ducks out and my nearby chicken coop didn't catch fire. Afterwards, I kept thinking there has to be a safer heater. I recently ordered the SWEETER HEATER from M.P.C. and it is the perfect answer!!! I had resisted buying it because it is much more expensive but IT IS WORTH THE PRICE!! Please! It is a matter of safety. I feel secure using it with my little ones because it provides gentle heat with out exposed bulbs that could catch bedding on fire. I can't replace my historical barn and was fortunate not to lose my house and coop but I am still recovering emotionally and financially. At least I can rest easy with my wonderful Sweeter Heater!!

Victoria Jolina
5 years ago

my God , I can not describe the emotional shivers going trough my soul at this point to be honest , and i am not afraid to just admit this : yes this got me bursting out in tears as if I feel something tearing me open inside out ,and why , the why here is the fact you are the hero here , you show us how much human we all can or should be , the emotional loss , pain , destruction , yet also the lessons here , you are very VERY wise as a person , you stand very far ahead in life , because if you did not even wrote this down it would be different , or just writing down this happened is also a lot of a different tale but THIS , I mean YOU writing that wasn't simply blogging , thats having your soul and heart speak with the ability of what it has learned out of such tragic happening , and its writing here gives away the vulnerability of how we are . We should be greatfull for having someone like you reminding us of the fear of love , loss , pain and even better yet , the reminding of how to be human being these days and how to love your pet ! my sincerely respect and regret for the older flock , RIP and may you be blessed with these beautiful new birds ...

5 years ago

Hi Victoria,
Thank you so much for your kinds, understanding thoughts. You're right; that was perhaps the most difficult thing I've ever had to write, but I obviously NEEDED to write it. It was cathartic, and released a flood of creativity after I wrote it. I was truly "blocked" before, but actually putting my negative feelings into words released their hold on me. Expressing our pain in healthy ways can have beneficial outcomes. Thanks again for your kindness and for responding to the blog.

4 years ago

I'm so very sorry for your terrible loss 🙁 I am just in the preparation stages of beginning "The Chicken Saga" era of my life and while I don't yet have my girls, I have dogs and know that bond we have with our beloved furry, fluffy and feathered friends and know I'd be absolutely devastated should something like this ever happen. I'm glad you are beginning the healing process and were able to try again. It's going to be difficult, but I hope by now you've made peace with it and are able to bond with "the wife's chickens" and make them your own. Peace to you.....

2 years ago

Thank you for sharing your story. Made me cry! But I think it was an important story to write as we all think we are being extra careful but sometimes that isn't enough. I am so sorry you lost your chickens but I am glad you are starting again!

2 years ago

You must be gifted writer. You got me to shed a few tears too. Im so sorry your family and beautiful birds. I pray God let them go very quickly. I too, in the beginning, put a heat light in my main coop. For beginners utilizing it in their homes for brooding chicks, we get attached to our babies we raised. I had not even considered the danger. I learned that a chicken can jump or fall off sleeping loft, and stir up dust and bedding, or down feathers, come in contact with bulb and viola! You have a coop fire on hand! I was so glad I have an obsession to learn, and disassembled the heat bulb immediately. I've had my eye on coop heater. With reduced price, and unknown of Climate Change, I'm going for it.

2 years ago
Reply to  Lisa

Hi Lisa. Thanks for your kind words and your story. I'm glad you're choosing a safer heating option for your coop! I wish the best to you and your flock.

Brandie Hudock
2 years ago

We just experienced this horror Thanksgiving morning. I feel so bad. The fire was too bad for us to do anything to save any of our chickens. I am heartbroken. I never felt so helpless as I did watching the coop burn. My husband wants to rebuild and get more. My heart hurts. I can relate to everything you said. Thank you for posting this.

2 years ago
Reply to  Brandie Hudock

Brandi, we are so sorry to hear about this unimaginable loss of your dear flock. We hope your heart heals soon and you can someday have another flock of chickens in your life.

Andrea Illig
1 year ago

I am two days past the horror. I am sure this pain will never pass. The glow of orange. My heart is broken. After the firetrucks and crews left. We recovered their bodies. Tucker, my devoted Roo curled into the furthest corner. I had just put them to bed. I held each of them. I loved them.

I moved away from my family 4 years ago for Jason; the love of my life. Three years ago, My darling cat, only 2 years old didn't come home, I still look for her. We let Jay's 13 yr old Jack R. T go just last year. Last December Jason was diagnosed with cancer. Small Cell Carcinoma. Given a 20% chance at survival.

The day after Easter, I brought home three Black Australorp hens. Loretta, Dolly, & Reba. Two days later Tucker, my sweet boy; a handsome Dark Brahman and Merida a White Leghorn. They played together in the brooder. When the first feather dropped they played Keep away for hours. They moved outside to the coop I built. And every night they came to the backdoor in search of me. They refused to head to the coop without a goodnight from Mom. I checked on them several times every night. Always fearful of preditors.

We would walk the property after I got home from work chasing grasshoppers. I would whistle and wait, when they rounded the corner, wings out, feet coming out from under their bodies, they were like Nascar chickens. They loved me... and worst of all, they trusted me. They would coo softly when I held them. They were my babies.

Merida just moved back to the coop the day before. She had gone broody. In the back of my home in the laundry room are three of Tucker's babies. All with feathered feet. Curious babes. Merida hasn't come back to visit like she did three times every hour. And they know something is wrong.
We had several days that the temperature never broke 0°, the nights were -20°. The call came from my father on December 31, we lost my cousin, to his five year battle against cancer. Loretta had the largest comb and waddle. She got frostbite. I felt so small. I have always been against supplemental heat. But I didn't have a choice. I bought the cozy coop heater from our local Murdochs. With phenomenal reviews... we mounted it. I read the instructions, I followed all rules. I asked Jay, if we were sure... , I turned it on inside first.... Setting 2, I decided, was much too hot. We mounted it on setting 1... I put it in their coop. I stayed for 45 minutes. My fingers freezing teeth chattering, my chickens were happy. I was still nervous.
I went to the bathroom for a shower. I came back out to the orange in the window.

NO. the neighbor was now pounding at the door. NO. NO. NO. NO. NO.


I COULD HEAR THEM. and then I couldn't. The fire trucks were already arriving. I was throwing snow with a shovel. Jay had the hose out. It ran for 3 minutes before it froze. We were helpless. Without shoes, wearing almost nothing the firemen and cops forced me inside.

I killed my babies. They trusted me.
They were afraid. They thought I would come. I didn't come. I can't handle this pain. It's all my fault. I am horrified. I can't stop thinking about their final moments. I am so mad at God. How much more pain?

How do I? Five of the most beautiful lives. They were there for me on my darkest days. When hope was gone. They came and mended my heart. I can't look at their babies.

1 year ago
Reply to  Andrea Illig

Andrea, Our hearts are breaking for you and your precious babies! We are so very sorry to hear about such a horrific tragedy. Thank you for having such strength and courage to share your story with all of us. Sharing this experience surely will spare others from a similar heartache. Our thoughts and deepest sympathies go out to you.

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