In the end, it was all for the love of a rabbit.
Salisbury Elementary School nurse Denise Bailey was driving to work last Friday when she saw the flames streaming from Mike Paine’s barn in Boscawen.
After turning around, parking along Route 4 and dialing 911, Bailey said her nurse instincts kicked in.
“I went to the house, I banged on the door – I heard nothing,” she said. Then Bailey, accompanied by another bystander whom she met on the road, ran down to the barn. It was already half-engulfed in fire, she said.
“My greatest fear was there was somebody in the barn,” she said. “But I never heard anything, thank God.”
Though there didn’t appear to be any people inside, Bailey did notice a large, white rabbit in a cage.
“It probably wasn’t the safest thing for me to go to a burning building and pull a bunny out,” Bailey said. “But I could not imagine leaving that bunny there to burn to death.”
Bailey lifted the 27-pound Flemish Giant rabbit, named Duff, out of its enclosure when she noticed some sort of fowl in a nearby coop. Thinking the birds – which turned out to be quail – were in danger, Bailey plopped Duff onto the ground and opened the coop doors.
“At that point,” the nurse said, “the fire department came and hollered for me to get out of there.”
Bailey and the other bystander left the scene as firefighters from seven towns began to arrive. Bailey said she showed up to Salisbury smelling of smoke and feeling shaken up.
“Afterwards I was very stressed,” she said. “I gained a whole new respect for firefighters. They went right there with the hose.”
Boscawen Fire Captain Mike Fisher said there were about 20 firefighters on scene, most of whom are volunteer.
“These (people) are just going and leaving work and trying to help somebody out and not getting paid for it,” he said. And while Fisher admired the similar generous intentions displayed by Bailey, he warned that she put herself in a dangerous situation.
“We teach, ‘get out, stay out,’ ” he said. “We do not recommend that civilians go in. However, she did save a rabbit.”
Duff the rabbit was the only animal in immediate harm’s way due to the fire, owner Mike Paine said. Though Duff hopped off in the chaos on Friday, Paine found the rabbit again on Saturday.
At the beginning of this week, Paine still had yet to get his dozen quail back.
“I would rather that happened – I would rather see the birds fly away than them get burned,” Paine said. He added of Bailey’s actions, “I very much appreciate her intent.”
Overall, things turned out much better than they otherwise could have. After some initial confusion about whether there were chicks underneath the heat lamp that appears to have started the barn fire, Paine confirmed that no animals died or got injured in the fire.
“There were no birds there – it was just in preparation,” he said. For now, he plans to keep his new chicks at a friend’s place.
Just in case the house caught fire, Boscawen Det. Jonathan Adinolfo, the second person on the scene, removed Paine’s dog from the house. Fisher said there was also a cat removed from the home, and he helped move some other rabbits and some pigs.
The latter, Fisher said, were “a little warmer than they were previous, but they were fine.”
Firefighters managed to douse the flames before the barn fire turned into a house fire, though it was a close call.
“The vinyl siding on the back of the house is totally melted,” Fisher said. Adinolfo, the police detective, said that when he first arrived, he noticed “some of the eaves were starting to smoke and char.”
Given the situation, Adinolfo stressed the danger of doing what Bailey did to save Duff the rabbit.
“We always urge people to think about what they’re about to do,” Adinolfo said. “There’s a reason firefighters have the heavy turnout gear, the oxygen masks.”
But he added, “We understand it’s human nature to want to assist people in need.”
Bailey was rewarded for her actions, however risky, when she learned no animals died in the fire and when Paine’s daughter came to her office at Salisbury Elementary School.
“When I got to work, one of his girls came in and said, ‘Nurse Denise, you saved the animals!’ ” Bailey said. “It was sweet and heartwarming. That little girl thought I was a hero – and all I did was save a bunny.”
(Elodie Reed can be reached at 369-3306, email@example.com or on Twitter @elodie_reed.)