BREMEN -- A mid-morning fire on Friday at Buena Vista Rabbitry resulted in the loss of roughly 250 rabbits, but no human casualties were reported.
"We lost between 6 and 7 percent of the animals in the building," said Buena Vista Rabbitry manager Tom Welge on Saturday. "It was still a considerable number of animals that were lost, but a large number were saved."
Welge said there were about 4,000 rabbits in the building when the fire broke out. He said the fire occurred during routine cleaning of the facility and its cause has been ruled accidental by Chester Fire Chief Marty Bert.
Both of the facility"s workers were on-scene at the time of the incident and made it out safely.
"We"re thankful that no employees were hurt, that the local fire departments were so quick in helping us and it helped keep the animal loss and property damage at a minimum," Welge said.
Firefighters responded to the business at 4388 Chester Road in Bremen on the report of a structure fire, which was called in at 10:48 a.m. Chester, Steeleville and Sparta fire departments responded to the incident, with Ellis Grove paged to stand by at Chester"s firehouse.
"The air handler was on the south side of the building," said Bert, who noted that he paged Steeleville as soon as he got on-scene as the building was full of smoke. "And the fire seemed to be in there. We were able to take the air handler doors off and get into the building.
"It started in that area and went up into the ceiling, so we had to get on top of the roof. That"s why we called for a ladder truck from Sparta, to help pull the metal off the top."
Bert estimated that 75 percent of what was inside the facility was saveable. The Herald Tribune witnessed one of the rabbitry"s two workers bringing out cages of surviving rabbits as firefighters attacked hotspots on the side of the building.
"We"ve got the animals back safe," Welge said. "Their needs are being taken care of. It"s a good reminder of how much of a danger fire can be to a home or business."
Buena Vista Rabbitry, which began business in January 2016, consists of a 340x60-foot building with automatic waterers and some automatic scrapers that assist with the cleaning of the pens. The business specializes in New Zealand Whites, which are white with pink eyes.
Steeleville and Sparta firefighters were released from the scene at 12:55 p.m., with Chester clearing the scene shortly before 2 p.m.
"It"s a lot of smoke damage, some equipment loss, cleanup, repair," Welge said on what was next for the business. "I think we"re hoping three to four weeks we"ll be back in order.
"With that many animals, we can"t go somewhere else with them, so we have to work around them and keep them happy."
Chester firefighters, however, weren"t given much time to rest as the CFD was paged back out at 2:33 p.m. for a reported grass fire at 628 Palestine Road near St. Mary"s Catholic Cemetery.
Bert told the Herald Tribune a worker was welding something next to a shed, and sparks - aided by steady winds and dry conditions - set the nearby grass on fire. Fire units were back in service at 2:52 p.m.