By Erika Butler
At least 40 cats and one dog died in a house fire on Rocks Road in Forest Hill late Monday night, fire officials said.
The number of animals in the house prompted firefighters to call Harford County Animal Control to investigate the home, Bel Air Volunteer Fire Company Chief Eddie Hopkins said early Tuesday morning, shortly after leaving the scene of the fire. A building inspector was also called.
Donald Kirk, owner of the one-story modular home, told firefighters he was awakened shortly after 11 p.m. Monday by cats crying or screaming. He saw he could smell smoke and saw it coming from the stove in the home’s kitchen and got out of the house. His wife was not home when the fire started.
The house was filled with smoke, Hopkins said, “thick, putrid, dark black smoke,” which necessitated firefighters breaking a number of windows so they could see inside.
About 30 firefighters from Bel Air and Jarrettsville volunteer fire companies responded. One firefighter from Jarrettsville sprained his ankle stepping off the truck and onto a house; he was taken to Upper Chesapeake Medical Center in Bel Air, Hopkins said.
Kirk suffered from smoke inhalation but refused medical attention other than at the scene. He went to stay with family members.
Hopkins said the house is uninhabitable and building inspector was expected to visit the house in the morning.
The couple, Hopkins said, “owned a lot of domestic dogs and cats.”
A number of the cats as well as at least one dog died in the fire, not from the flames but from the smoke, he said.
He estimated firefighters brought out at least a dozen cats and tried to save some of them using their equipment, but they weren’t successful.
In a notice of investigation issued Tuesday morning, the Maryland State Fire Marshal’s Office said: “It is estimated approximately 40 cats and one dog perished in the fire.”
Damage to the home was estimated at $10,000, damage to contents at $5,000, the fire marshal’s office said.
Animal control was called because of the number of animals in the home and to determine what, if any, health risk they pose and if they are violating any Harford County codes, laws or health regulations, Hopkins said.
Hopkins said he was told Kirk and his wife do wildlife rescue and treat animals, adding there may have been some non-domestic animals in the house, including some baby raccoons that were ready to be released. He said it’s likely they also died.
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