By LeeAnn Cain / Staff Writer
Friday’s devastating fire at the Knox-Whitley Animal Shelter ended with several lost lives and a destroyed building.
A cause for the fire is still under investigation by the Kentucky State Police, and it is still unknown where and how the fire started.
About 9:45 p.m. firefighters from Woodbine Fire and Rescue, Oak Grove, Goldbug, Rockholds and West Knox fire departments responded to a call reporting the shelter was on fire. Firefighters and officers from Whitley County Sheriff’s Department arrived to find that the driveway’s gate was locked, according Woodbine Fire and Rescue Chief Rick Fore. Firefighters had to break through the lock to make it to the smoking animal shelter.
Smoke was coming from both ends of the roof, Fore said. Firefighters and shelter staff broke through doors to save as many dogs and cats as possible before the roof collapsed and fire completely consumed the building’s interior. Most of the dogs were set free to be rounded up later.
The building was made from cement blocks, but had a trussed roof, meaning that the roof was comprised of wooden beams held together by metal plates, according to Fore. Fore went on to say that once the metal was heated and the beams went up in flames, it was only a matter of time before the roof came crashing down.
The fallen roof blocked firefighters from entering through the front and, according to Fore, they had to approach from the back to get the animals and attempt to fight some of the fire devouring the building. It wasn’t long until the building could not be entered at all. The fire would shrink only to swell up again, according to Fore, and it soon became clear that the building was going to be heavily damaged.
Power was still running to the animal shelter, but according to Fore it “killed itself” after so much damage had occurred. Fore said that the firefighters had to get RECC to cut the power off, but they were able to shut the building’s gas off themselves.
“Our biggest problem was running out of water,” Fore said. He went on to say that they couldn’t get enough trucks on scene to provide adequate water to subdue the fire. Fore heard a call to conserve water, but did not follow through.
“You can’t conserve nothing,” he said. “You gotta do what you can.”
During the fire fight, Hwy. 1064 had to be shut down to better allow tankers carrying water through, and the dripping water began to freeze on the roads. Fore said that the Kentucky State Police Highway dispatch had to be called to ask their help in arranging for salt to be applied on the road in front of the animal shelter.
Fifty firefighters battled the blaze for 11 hours. According to Fore, the fire was under control in about two or three hours but continued to burn until 8:30 a.m. Saturday. No firefighters were injured in the blaze.
Also responding to the scene was Whitley County EMS.
In the aftermath of the fire on the following day, all but two of 21 dogs were accounted for, with one still believed to be roaming. Only eight out of shelter’s 37 cats survived; they were housed in the middle of the building, which, according to Fore, was where the roof began to collapse. Also counted among the animal fatalities was the office guinea pig, Yoda.
The canine casualty was Sassy, a Basenji that served as a mascot for the animal shelter. According to shelter employee Amanda Wyatt, everybody thought of Sassy as their dog. She greeted visitors and accompanied shelter staff on trips to nursing homes and events.
Sassy died from smoke inhalation, according to Wyatt.
The community rushed to help the animal shelter, with many volunteering to foster dogs until they could be transported to other organizations. According to shelter employee Amanda Foreman, veterinarians Mark and Tammy Smith of Knox County Veterinary Services took nine of the dogs to be housed in their facility’s kennels while local community members flocked to foster the remaining animals. One dog, a Basset hound mix named Bugsy, was adopted by his foster family.
“Everybody’s pitching in to help,” Martin Myers, husband of shelter director Deana Myers, said.
According to Myers, several animals will go to the Lexington Humane Society and according to volunteer Theresa Martin others will go to Wagging Hearts Rescue, an organization in Chicago that pulls dogs from rural shelters to be adopted.
The building was irreparably damaged from the inside, but it was insured, according to Myers. The outside of the building still stands, although the roof is gone and the insides were destroyed. Wyatt said they hadn’t even thought about rebuilding yet, and they were mainly concerned with finding places for the animals that had survived and for incoming animals.
How to help the Knox-Whitley Animal Shelter
Cash donations can be made at the Forcht Bank in Corbin and London. The Corbin branch can be reached at 606-528-3660. The London branch can be reached at 606-864-9500. The shelter also has a PayPal account set up to receive donations. Drop-off donations can be made at Knox County Veterinary Services of 314 High Street in Barbourville, the office of William and Devanna Durham of 513 18th Street in Corbin, or Whitley County EMS of 1002 Aviation Blvd in Williamsburg.
Myers said that the shelter has plenty of food, and mainly needs water, towels, blankets, metal food and water bowls for the animals, big water buckets, pans that can be used as litter boxes, litter scoops, cat litter, cat containment crates, garbage cans, and large garbage bags.