The area I live in is semi-rural. I live in a small subdivision built in 1970, in a village of about 1500 people, surrounded by dairy farms, cornfields, and bush. So we do tend to interact with the local wildlife a bit. For example, there's been a skunk digging up my back lawn for the past couple of weeks looking for grubs. This morning, I took Old Carp Road on my way to work. It winds through forest for much of its length, and on the trip I had to honk my horn to get a fat doe to leave the middle of the road and I passed three wild turkeys grazing (or whatever it is that turkeys do) under the trees. The other evening, four fat raccoons came out of the culvert in the ditch beside my house (four!) and climbed my oak tree. I shouted at them to scare them off, but they just looked at me, and if those tiny paws could have formed the right shape, they'd've given me the finger for sure. But I digress...
This morning I got Leah up early for a 7 a.m. dentist appointment. At 6:45 she was sitting on the couch waiting for me to get my go-cup of coffee, when she suddenly said, "Holy Cow, Mum, there's a squirrel in the fireplace!" Our fireplace has an old brass surround with bi-folding glass doors (like old closet doors) and behind that, a chain-mail curtain, so that you can enjoy the heat of a fire without having sparks jump out and burn the carpet. Both the doors and the curtains were closed. I could see something moving around in there, but it was dark. Leah said it was a smallish squirrel, I couldn't see it very well, but the cat sure wanted to check it out. I decided to wait until after the dentist -- hey, maybe I'd get lucky and it would climb back out again. Maybe. If I was really lucky.
Forty-five minutes later we were home. The squirrel was at the front of the fireplace. He was huge. And grey. And he was sort of hanging from the chain-mail curtain. I could see his paler belly and the underside of his tail. What the hell was I going to do? Well, when in doubt, google it. Surely I wasn't the first person in the world to have this problem. So I went downstairs and googled "squirrel in fireplace". There were a surprising number of hits. Probably not as many as would result from "Hugh Jackman shirtless", but a respectable number nonetheless.
The first site, a wildlife rescue, said: "Do not remove the squirrel through the fireplace as it may escape into the room. Secure a heavy rope from the top of the chimney and drop it down to the fireplace. The rope provides a perfect escape route during daylight hours." Riiiight. I'm going to risk life and limb climbing a ladder and stuffing a rope down my chimney for a freaking squirrel. I don't think so. I'd sooner follow the advice of the 16-year-old staying with us: "Why don't you set it on fire?" (I'm pretty sure she was kidding.)
The next site, DoItYourself.com was a goldmine of information (and if this ever happens to you, this is where you should go for advice. Screw the rope down the chimney). It said that you have a couple of other choices:
Removal Through the House
Close all doors to any rooms in the house that the squirrel is not in. Close all of the curtains on the windows or the doors in the room where the fireplace or exhaust fan is located. If necessary, use newspaper to cover incoming light sources. Leave the curtain open on the window or the door where you want the squirrel to exit. Open that window or door as wide as possible. Remove the screen, if necessary. Open the door to the fireplace or the cover from the exhaust fan so the squirrel can exit. They will escape towards the light.
Now you're talking. That made a lot of sense. I locked the cat in the bathroom, the girls all went in my bedroom to watch TV, and I opened the sliding glass doors in the kitchen. I closed all the other doors and curtains, and the sun shone in the open door like a beacon to squirrely acorn-filled freedom. Gingerly, I opened one of the fireplace doors and the mesh curtain and jumped back. The squirrel didn't move. And I don't mean a cowering-in-fear kind of not moving, it was more of a not-breathing-ex-parrot kind of not moving. Great. Now I probably had a dead squirrel to deal with. I had changed into old clothes and was wearing heavy suede gauntlet gloves, and I pulled the mesh curtain aside. No movement. There were tufts of fur on the floor of the fireplace. He must have been thrashing around pretty good to cause that kind of damage. The body looked funny, though. Kind of formless and fluffy rather than furry.
Slowly, I put my hand out...and grabbed hold of....a big wodge of the grey insulation that had been stuffed between the edge of the fireplace surround and the fire brick inside the fireplace. It must have been dislodged by the squirrel running around in fear after falling into the fireplace. It was hanging against the mesh curtain doing a remarkable impersonation of the underside of a squirrel. The real squirrel was long gone, he probably climbed back up the chimney before we even left the dentist's office.
What an anticlimax. Two things occurred to me at that point: 1) if this ever happens again, I'll know how to deal with it (thank you Google), and 2) it is better to be lucky than good.