Beardy’s bunny blazes trail

A rabbit spread flames beyond an intended controlled burn area on Beardy’s and Okemasis Cree Nation, including to a small thicket of trees, right, where it likely died. -- Janaya Albers/Daily Herald Contributor

Rabbit runs ablaze across FN after firefighters attempt controlled burn procedures

Janaya Albers, Daily Herald Contributor

Evan Radford, Daily Herald

A rabbit engulfed in flames ran away from a controlled fire and spread the flames to an area near the elementary school on the Beardy’s and Okemasis’ Cree Nation Monday afternoon.

The Beardy’s Fire Hall volunteers were burning grass about 200 meters back of the first nation’s high school under controlled conditions. The firefighters said they were shocked to see a rabbit, which had caught on fire, trying to run for safety in a bush after it had been caught in the initial controlled burn area.

As the rabbit raced northwest, in the direction of the Chief Beardy Memorial Elementary School, it carried the flames, and the fire spread to the close vicinity of the school grounds.

“It was just behind the high school. And apparently from that fire, that rabbit must have been hiding in the grass, and it took off running into the next bush, and so they had to go and rush to put that fire out,” explained Beardy’s Chief Roy Petit.

“Then it ran into this bush that’s behind our (hockey) arena. And so that (set of bushes) caught on fire. That was where the problem was, that’s where all the smoke came from, it was the trees burning in there.”

Due to the heavy smoke coming from the fire, the Fire Hall workers and Petit helped to evacuate the elementary school of its kids, directing them to walk over to the high school, where they joined the elder students.

After that, the elementary and high school students boarded the buses, when they showed up, getting bussed safely to their homes.

The wildfire flames spread to the back of the grassy field area behind the Beardy’s and Okemasis’ Cree Nation elementary school, leaving large swaths of the area burned and charred. — Janaya Albers/Daily Herald Contributor

“The smoke was pretty thick, so we had to … get the kids out of it, because it was close to the elementary school,” Petit said.

A tough factor was the ever-changing wind, too.

“Initially the wind was going east and then it switched west, and then it switched north and it switched south, so it was kind of all over the place yesterday.

“Then it was picking up and it died down, so it was kind of a crazy-wind day.”

The fact that the rabbit caught on fire and spread the flames to other areas not planned for the controlled burn procedures caught everyone by surprise, the chief said.

“Every year our fire department goes around and burns areas that are thick with old, dry grass to prevent grass fires from happening … (the rabbit) just got away. And unfortunately an animal was killed in the process.”

The Beardy’s chief said he feels for the rabbit and empathized that it must have been frightened.

“The firefighters are all around, making sure that it’s not going to get out of control anywhere.

“So if you can imagine being a small animal, being surrounded by all these humans – I imagine he was hiding in the taller grass, and then caught on fire and just tried to run for … he doesn’t know how to stop, drop and roll, so he just ran.”

“It’s unfortunate that he had to die, but that’s what happens when we try to prevent fires from happening, sometimes the animals get caught in it.”

The Beardy’s and Okemasis’ Cree Nation fire department used this truck to try to contain the flames. — Janaya Albers/Daily Herald Contributor