Positive attitude helps animal exhibitor cope with fire

A smiling Blazer next to his burned house. He is holding a baboon named "Kenya" a companion of 28 years.

Bill Wilson

When Brian Blazer posed for a photograph next to his home — which had recently burned down — he was, improbably, smiling.

The house where Blazer lived with his wife, Cathy, and their five children was a total loss when it caught fire Dec. 27, but that did not deter Blazer from living out his philosophy of being positive in bad times.

For one thing, the longtime naturalist still had his animals, an extensive assortment of species both faraway and regional that he shows off at local schools. He also had his own family to think of.

“Yes — have to smile — crying hurts too damn bad. There’s no way you can go backwards,” Blazer said — with a smile.

Blazer, 57, and his wife decided to stay positive, he said, for the sake of their children and to “act normal” to help them to act normal.

“If we break down in front of them they’re going to break down too. We can’t have the kids breaking down — they just had their Christmas presents burn up,” Blazer said.

His dream home

Blazer’s house in southern Cleburne County was his dream home, he said. He had gathered downed trees from 1995’s Hurricane Opal for most of the lumber used in the three-level, 3,600-square-foot structure. It took him 10 years to build. The house had wraparound decks and numerous porches and a fireplace with a chimney.

That chimney is what Blazer thinks caused the fire.

“I was downstairs — actually a friend was here with me and we’re just visiting — I had a wood stove in the basement that I’ve burned for years,” Blazer said.

Blazer’s wife had gone out to eat that night with one of the children. The rest of the kids were at a relative’s house.

“My friend left and I heard something upstairs I thought Cathy had come back so I came upstairs and I actually heard the wood popping — the house was on fire,” Blazer said.

“It was right besides the fireplace chimney — so I guess something in the chimney or something started it,” Blazer said.

Blazer said he has used the same fireplace and chimney for years.

As soon as Blazer saw the flames he ran out to his boat to retrieve a fire extinguisher.

“I pulled the pin on the fire extinguisher and although it was in date and everything, it just went ‘phfft,’” Blazer said, making the sound that a non-functioning fire extinguisher might make.

Blazer ran and got a garden hose, but it did not reach, so he ran and got another hose from the backyard.

“I was running so hard that when I came to the end of the hose I actually busted the fitting and the hose didn’t have any water in it,” Blazer said.

Next, Blazer said, he grabbed a pan of water to throw on the fire, but when he opened the door to the room the air hit the fire and gave it fuel.

“It went across the ceiling of the house and the Christmas tree and everything — it just went up so fast — just a few seconds. I could no longer see in the house,” Blazer said, as smoke filled the room.

Unable to see above his waist, Blazer ran out of the house to the heartbreaking sound of windows behind him shattering from the heat.

Blazer had enough time to drive his cars away from the house but his all-terrain vehicle burned with the house.

“I couldn’t get anything, not even a extra hat out of there,” Blazer said.

He called the nearby volunteer fire department in Micaville, which responded within “four to five minutes”.

“But the fire was so hot all they could do was keep my other buildings from burning,” Blazer said.

Most animals rescued

Blazer was busy moving his animals away from the fire that were housed close by — too close for safety — in an assortment of barns, pens and cages on his property. As owner of a business called Blazer’s Educational Animals, he conducts wildlife shows at local schools. These animals include baboons, porcupines, snakes, birds, bobcats and a raccoon-like carnivore called a coatimundi. Blazer also raises wild goats and birds, which he sells to other farms and the television and movie industry.

None of his animals perished in the fire, but his children’s pets — including chinchillas, lizards, chameleons and parakeets — were lost.

Blazer’s home was insured but it will take time to rebuild. For now the family is living in a trailer that was used for storage. Blazer installed water lines, renovated rooms and put in a new floor to make it livable. Friends brought camper trailers for the family to stay in temporarily. People have been opening their hearts and their wallets to help, he said.

Blazer said that friends also started an account at the website GoFundMe.com that has raised more than $10,000 so far. Additional money has been given to Blazer from his business associates and other friends.

Blazer said he’s always lent a helping hand to people and friends in need.

“There’s never been anybody we didn’t help who needed it — it all comes back to you,” said Blazer.

Blazer was so touched with his blessings from other people in his time of need he has sent money to three other fire victims in Cleburne County.

“We’re all going to make it through this,” Blazer said.