Dozens of dogs rescued from house fire in Calvert County

By Martin Weil
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, December 13, 2010; 1:57 AM

When the firefighters arrived at the burning house in Southern Maryland early Sunday, they could hear the cries coming from inside. It "sounded like children," said Jonathan Riffe, chief of the Huntingtown Volunteer Fire Department.

That sent firefighters into the house on a rescue mission, Riffe said. And they made rescues - many of them. But not necessarily the kind they expected when they arrived at the house in Calvert County.

Riffe, who was at the scene, said 129 dogs had been trapped in the house at the time of the fire. Firefighters managed to bring 125 out alive and four died of smoke inhalation, he said.

He said he understood the dogs to include chihuahuas, rottweilers and possibly other breeds. It appeared that most were in pens, kennels or cages, he said.

However, a county official who was not at the scene gave a smaller estimate. Gerald W. Clark (R-Lusby), vice president of the Board of County Commissioners, said he had been told that about 40 to 50 dogs were in the house and elsewhere on the property.

As firefighters tried to quell the flames and groped in the smoky interior of the house for the kennels, "things got knocked over," Riffe said. Some dogs got loose.

A couple nipped at firefighters, Riffe said. But shielded by their protective gear, the firefighters were not injured, he said.

Firefighters grabbed the animals' cages, the chief said, and passed them hand to hand to safety "like a bucket brigade."

The dogs were turned over to animal control authorities, he said. Riffe said he was told by animal control personnel that many other animals, including cats and horses, were housed elsewhere on the five-acre property, on Neptune Lane.

Clark said he was told by the county's animal control department that an occupant of the house was involved with an animal shelter or rescue operation.

The county commissioner said he was told that yearly inspections had always found the animals at the site "properly taken care of." The checks found no violations of county regulations or ordinances, he said.

The blaze was reported about 2:45 a.m., Riffe said. Two people were in the house when the fire broke out, Riffe said. He said the occupants notified authorities of the fire. It was not clear whether they said anything about the dogs.

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