FENELON FALLS, Ont. — More than 300 animals were rescued from a home following a fire that drew firefighters into conditions so deplorable, fire officials want the building condemned. With "a few inches" of feces on the floor and a toxic smell beyond imagination, Kawartha Lakes Fire Rescue Service acting fire Chief Pat Twohey said he's never seen anything like it. "Not to this extent," he said.
The cats, dogs, birds, rats, rabbits, gerbils and hamsters were moved to shelters in 50 Ontario communities by Ontario Society of Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (OSPCA) and Humane Society of Kawartha Lakes staff. Veterinarians were also called in to assess the animals. "As (firefighters) were crawling into the building, animals were running past them to get out," Twohey said. Crews quickly knocked down the fire Saturday at the rear of the home, limiting damage to an estimated $10,000 to the building and $5,000 to its contents. It is believed to have been caused by a baseboard heater that either faulted or ignited feces that was inside of it, Twohey said. Incredibly, no animals were killed.
It was an emotional return home for the female owner of the building about an hour after the fire was reported. She was called at the pet store she works at in Peterborough, Ont., by next-door neighbour Chris Verlint-Slykhuis. After being consoled by firefighters and City of Kawartha Lakes OPP Const. Rob Haney, she began helping humane society staff with the transfer of animals into plastic moving cages. "Yes, I have a lot of cats. I have a lot of cats because I love cats, so f--- off," she snapped at media at the scene.
Verlint-Slykhuis wasn't at all surprised by the number of animals brought out of the home by firefighters. "I knew it was going to be a disaster because I knew of all the animals in the home," she said. "It's been very hard on my family because there are days that we cannot play outside, we can't open our windows." The smell of ammonia was so strong, some firefighters removed their jackets once they exited the building. Twohey said there were exhaust fans in the building evacuating air to the outside. A veterinarian on scene told him the levels of ammonia inside were toxic, he added.
It's been difficult getting something done about the conditions in the house, Twohey said Monday. He contacted the local health unit and property standards Saturday, which both said there was little that could be done as your home "is your palace." It would be different if it was a rental property, he said. As it is, the building has been deemed unsafe by the fire service and fire prevention staff will be investigating this week. Fenelon Falls is located about 150 km northeast of Toronto.
*The Toronto Sun