“I’ve been doing this for 29 years and this is the first incident that I’ve had where we’ve lost so many pets,” he added.
The dogs probably died of smoke inhalation, the fire department said in a news release. While the investigation into the cause of the fire is ongoing, Sullivan said, the incident has led to a newfound push to amend local fire codes, which do not require sprinkler systems in facilities like the pet hotel.
The blaze in Georgetown, a city with a population of about 80,000, is the latest fire this year that resulted in dozens of animal deaths. In April, 54 dogs died in a fire at a kennel in Bardstown, Ky. Fire officials determined it was an accident. A home in Sparta, Wis., caught fire in May, killing 14 adult dogs, 12 puppies and two cats. Thirteen dogs and a feral cat died in August from a fire in a Chandler, Ariz., home that functioned as an animal shelter. It is unclear what caused the Wisconsin and Arizona incidents.
The Georgetown Fire Department began receiving several 911 calls just before 11 p.m. Saturday, Sullivan said. First responders arrived at Ponderosa Pet Resort within five minutes. Twenty-five firefighters worked to stop the blaze. They gained access to the building and opened doors and windows for ventilation.
After consulting with the owner, the department learned that 75 dogs were inside the facility. No humans were present when the building went up in flames.
“It is extremely heart-wrenching for us as first responders,” Sullivan said Sunday. “My heart just dropped when I got the address and knew exactly what location we were going to because, quite frankly, I view my personal pet as my closest confidant, friend and one that doesn’t judge. My heart just breaks for the people today.”
Authorities said 59 families lost pets in the fire. As of Monday afternoon, the department was working with the animal hotel’s owner to reunite families with their dogs’ remains.
“This is an emotionally wrought experience, and we’re here to support them,” Sullivan said in a video statement released Monday.
Phillip Paris, the owner of Ponderosa Pet Resort, said in a statement to KXAN that he is “emotionally overwhelmed” by the fire.
“Fifty-nine families are affected, and their best friends won’t be coming home. As a dog owner, I feel their heartbreak intensely,” he said. “We are working through the fog of our own grief, but we know each family is pained more than we are. It is soul-wrenching to lose a friend suddenly and without warning. I realize this, and grieve for each life lost, and the families disrupted by this tragedy.”
Don and Pam Richard boarded their two puppies, Bunny and Clyde, last week in preparation for their wedding on Friday. They were supposed to pick up the dogs on Sunday.
“Yeah, we never thought this would happen,” Don Richard told KXAN.
“Hopefully they were already asleep so they didn’t panic,” Pam Richard added.
Ponderosa Pet Resort did not have employees working overnight, a fact noted on the business’s website. It is unclear if there was a sprinkler system, which is not required by local fire codes.
But the incident has instigated a push among community members and fire department leaders to update those rules. Sullivan noted the city follows state and federal codes, which “itself is silent when it talks to animal occupancies,” he said in a video statement released Monday.
“We’re looking at ways that we can try to encourage change, not only here locally, but across the country,” Sullivan said. “We will be reviewing some amendments with our counsel later this fall.”
Carl Wren, Georgetown’s fire protection engineer, said the International Code Council, which drafts fire code guidelines every three years, happens to be meeting this week to vote on the 2024 edition. He plans to attend the meeting and advocate updating the rules involving animals.
“The codes have not historically dealt much with animals other than as business occupancies or agricultural animals,” Wren said in the fire department’s video statement. “This is, I think, is a very needed reexamination of that position.”
The department, with the help of fire marshals, is investigating the blaze by going through a list of possible causes.
“We want answers and we want answers now, but we need to go through a process of identifying clearly what caused this fire so we can better learn from this and help prevent a future tragedy from occurring,” Sullivan said.
The fire chief noted that he has been greatly impacted by the incident.
“I just wish I could go back in time and make it better,” Sullivan said Sunday.