Bird lovers move on after fire

Only 14 of 32 animals, including dogs, birds, lizards, survived blaze

Posted: Thursday, May 20, 2004

A week and a half after Carlene and Barry Shaw lost some 20 exotic birds when their house caught fire on Mother's Day, they're planning a new start.

The large aviaries that held the birds in the living room of their house at 339 Fifth Street are now gone.

"You've got to keep pushing on," said Barry, 55. "It wasn't people that died, you know, it was birds. I can't imagine what it is like for people to lose people."

Although the damage caused by the fire was relatively small and the couple said things are getting back to normal, Carlene, 54, said the ordeal has been an emotional rollercoaster.

"This morning I curled up in a fetal position and cried my eyes out," she said.

"We play cards every night and it's really strange to not have the cockatiels ..." she said, cutting herself off in mid-sentence, choking up. "You know, grabbing our cards, and we're giving them peanuts. And one's on my shoulder and we're giving them head rubs. You miss them a lot."

Several of the animals made it out of the house, escaping a fire that broke out in the couple's bedroom, only to die later of smoke inhalation. Only 14 of 32 animals, including dogs, birds and lizards, survived the blaze.

"We're going to keep the birds we've got and make them our main responsibility now," Barry said. "You know, it's just too hard to think about getting more birds."

The couple said they began caring for many of the birds about eight years ago and gradually the collection grew with donations. They said a macaw, one of two cockatoos, several finches, a black-capped lory, a canary and five doves survived the fire. Their Tibetan Spaniel, Kootzie, and iguanas, Edgar and Ernest, also made it out alive.

"You can't replace them," Carlene said. "We're talking about Peepers and Easy and Curly and Corny and Dusty and Gertrude. These aren't just an aviary full of birds. These were all our pets."

Carlene said the animals that survived owe their lives to Capital City Fire and Rescue. The fire department arrived at the scene at 10:28 that Sunday morning - about five minutes after the emergency call was placed - and extinguished an apparent electrical fire in the couple's bedroom in less than 20 minutes.

The fire was contained to the single room, according to Richard Etheridge, acting fire chief and fire marshal.

Etheridge said a preliminary investigation revealed that the fire likely was started by a burned-out electrical device plugged into an outlet in the bedroom.

Etheridge said firemen estimated the damage at approximately $30,000, but there was no structural damage to the building. The couple said homeowner's insurance would cover the damage.

Carlene said she thought the fire might have been started by the couple's 18-year-old dog, Sugar, a victim of the fire. She said the elderly dog slept in the couple's bedroom next to an electrical outlet that caught fire, and she suspects the animal might have triggered the accident.

She said they plan to keep the birds that made it through the ordeal but probably will get rid of the aviaries that once held them.

"We are starting all over," Carlene said. "We have a whole living room that used to be full of aviaries. We don't have a couch. We never have. We don't have a chair. We never have. I might put my piano in the living room."

"It would be kind of nice to sit down on the couch and watch the TV," Barry said. "That wouldn't be bad, you know."

• Timothy Inklebarger can be reached at timothy.inklebarger@juneauempire.com.



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