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Possumhaw: How to be safe and warm


Shannon Bardwell



"With animals, and in life in general, there are no real guarantees everything will go as planned ... but if you pay attention ... life will be easier, for humans and animals alike."  


-- Katy Little, Poppy Creek Farm 




It was a cold evening last week when I headed upstairs. The kittens were bedded and all the outside animals, plants, and structures were adequately heated. That's when I smelled something like wires burning. I called to Sam to come and see what he thought. Sam has a much better "smeller" than I do, which can sometimes be a blessing and sometimes a curse. 


"It smells like wires burning," he said. There was a slight look of alarm. We ran through all the possibilities even touching the walls. The smell hovered in the stairway along with the heat. 


Minutes earlier I had been in the stairway and smelled nothing. Sam thought the probable suspect was the air freshener I had sprayed near the heater's return vent. Likely the spray had been sucked into the heating system over the emergency coils and was producing a burnt smell throughout the house. 


While I turned in for the evening Sam said he'd stay up awhile to see if the smell subsided and maybe catch a little more basketball. I settled in with a good book but caught myself thinking of escape routes -- something I had never considered.  


From upstairs there's only one way out -- down the stairs. Then there's the windows. The back of the house drops off down to the lake, about the equivalent of three stories. I determined if I could get to the opposite bedroom I'd go out the front window and slide off the roof there. At least I could hang on to the satellite dishes. It was the first time any of this had occurred to me. We should have checked the smoke detectors; what about the kittens shut in the bathroom/kitten bedroom downstairs.  


Two mornings later I received a text to pray for a friend of a friend. That night their barn and home had burned down. The family was safe, the horses released, but the barn animals had perished. One newborn piglet did survive, there were no details. A few days before I had seen a picture of the sow with her piglets; they were no bigger than your hand.  


Later I learned the fire was caused by a heat lamp intended to keep the animals warm. The lamp had exploded, catching the contents of the barn on fire. Like the burn smell in the stairway, I started thinking about heat lamps. Several were in our out-buildings and one over the bunny hutch. 


I learned there are five types of light bulbs -- incandescent, LED, CFL (compact florescent), halogen and infrared. Incandescent, halogen and infrared produce heat. Where you have heat you have the possibility of fire. Infrared particularly has intense heat and can easily shatter. 


Safety measures for heat lamps include making sure the lamp is securely fastened and can't be inadvertently knocked or blown over. Katy Light, a homesteader in north Georgia, has a number of suggestions at, including double securing the heat lamp, protecting the lamp's reflector, removing flammable material and the old proverb, "Better to be safe than sorry."


Shannon Rule Bardwell is a Southern writer living quietly in the Prairie.


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