Community rallies behind Westport’s Earthplace after fire, animals in temporary homes
Updated 12:57 pm, Friday, April 21, 2017
WESTPORT — Snakes curled in tanks, birds and rabbits resting in cages and frogs sitting in shallow water line a narrow hallway at Earthplace. The animals are in temporary homes after a fire last week caused smoke damage to the nature center, wildlife preserve and preschool’s Animal Hall where they usually reside in more spacious habitats.
The fire, ruled an accident, broke out in a preparation and storage room, which was more severely damaged. The animal hall needs more minor repairs to rid the room of smoke damage, a heavy smoky smell still lingering in the sealed-off room. Community support came pouring in after firefighters put out the flames, with other nature centers, veterinarians and community members asking how to help, said Becky Newman, director of nature programs.
“We started small with the simple things we needed,” she said, “which came flooding in Saturday.”
Earthplace created an Amazon list including food, cleaning supplies, cages and other animal care supplies after people asked how they could help. The center had already received 65 items by Wednesday evening.
Earthplace Amazon List
A selection of items Earthplace is looking for from its Amazon Wish List:
Standlee Premium Western Forage Timothy Grass, 10lb Box
Wakeman Fishing Single Tray Tackle Box 55 Pc Tackle Kit - Bold Blue
Westek TE08WHB Indoor 8-Outlet Weekly Digital Power Strip Timer
STERILITE Portable File Box
Swingline 3-Hole Punch, SmartTouch, Low Force, 12 Sheet Punch Capacity (A7074134)
Exo Terra Boston Fern Terrarium Plant, Medium
Exo Terra Silk Terrarium Plant, Large, Ficus
Exo Terra Plastic Terrarium Plant, Large, Mandarin
LAYs Aquarium Driftwood Wood Trunk Plant Stump for Fish Tank Ornament Landscaping (L)
Zilla Reptile Décor Malaysian Driftwood
Lixit Pet Glass Water Bottle, 32-Ounce
Ferret Nation Accessory Kit 3
Prevue Hendryx 1097 Nature's Hideaway Grass Hut Toy, Medium
Prevue Hendryx 1098 Nature's Hideaway Grass Tunnel Toy
“This fire kind of struck at the heart of Earthplace,” Executive Director Tony McDowell said, explaining its animals are great ambassadors for nature and at the center of what Earthplace does. While a crab and tree frog died from the fire’s heat, Earthplace “dodged a bullet,” he said, with most of its animals in good health.
A veterinarian examined all the animals last Friday and most received clean bills of health. The weekend gave the snakes, frogs, lizards, rabbits, birds and other animals a chance to settle down from the shock of the fire’s heat and smoke, McDowell said. A grey squirrel that made a “miraculous recovery” and a guinea pig remain under vet observation.
After the fire, Earthplace witnessed the “amazing resilience of these small animals,” McDowell said.
Earthplace reopened Monday and is almost fully functional. The birds of prey area is set to reopen April 29, with visitors entering from outside for free until other repairs are made. The animal hall should be open within a month, and only needs repainting and resealing to rid the room of smoke damage.
All the animals are viewable and story times and animal feedings continue in the temporary set-up. Remaining repairs don’t impact visitors and are expected by the end of the summer.
Center officials hope community members will turn out April 29 to celebrate Westport Greenday, welcoming the big event following the fire and hoping to show all the animals and center are fine. The nature center is hosting a family trail run in the morning, an afternoon rally for the environment and other events with Earthplace and Wakeman Town Farm animals and other partners through the middle of the day.
Fire Marshal Edward Zygmant confirmed Tuesday the fire was accidental. The spontaneous combustion of a linseed oil-soaked cloth mixed with a bin of other laundry was found to be its start.
The blaze broke out in Earthplace’s back room in a basket of towels set to be laundered, among them the soaked rag.
“Utilizing linseed oil is a popular preservative and finish. It shall be noted that linseed oil-soaked rags are very susceptible to spontaneous combustion, which was the case here,” Zygmant wrote in an email. “Extreme care should be taken when using it and application rags should be dried flat; follow the safety precautions on the can.”