First responders, vets praised in Pet Paradise fire rescue

CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (CBS19 NEWS) -- The day after a fire broke out in the Pet Paradise animal boarding facility on Concord Avenue, the head of the company had praise for those who came to the rescue and averted a greater tragedy.

“The community just really pulled together from all over, whether they were vets or first responders. [They] really were the ones that were heroes of this,” said Fernando Acosta-Rua, CEO of Pet Paradise.

The company has 28 locations around the country, and Acosta-Rua flew in from Florida to help in the aftermath of the fire.

He says the fire alarm sounded around 6 p.m. Sunday, and first responders were there in under four minutes, pulling more than 75 dogs and cats out of the burning building.

Charlottesville Fire Chief Andrew Baxter says the conditions inside were perilous.

"The temperature at the floor when they entered was 500 degrees," he said.

Baxter says the rapid response time was critical.

"The outcome would have been very different in terms of the animals, there's no question about that,” he said. “This was a close one from their survivability perspective.”

Veterinarians and their staff from clinics around the area also came to the scene. Organizing that effort was Tripp Stewart, veterinarian and owner of the Greenbrier Emergency Animal Hospital.

"We started triaging, seeing who was in need of veterinary care and who was away from the fire and just stressed out," he said.

Some of the dogs were covered in soot and suffering from smoke inhalation.

"Initial treatment is really to get them to a vet’s office, cool them down, bathe them, try and get the smoke and soot off them and then start oxygen therapy if they needed it," Stewart said.

Virginia Veterinary Specialists was also among the clinics that stepped up to help.

"We called in four veterinary specialists and a staff of 10 to 12 to work through the night," said veterinarian and clinic co-owner Kevin Stiffler.

Veterinary Specialists kept 24 animals overnight, including golden retrievers Nelson and Kemper, whose owners Derrick and Sarah Waller were traveling overnight. They were terrified when they learned their pets had been in the fire through an email a few hours after the blaze.

"Just not having enough information there of what time did the fire start, if everybody got out," Sarah Waller said in a phone interview as the couple traveled back to Charlottesville on Monday.

Vets have told them both of their dogs will recover, and Waller says she's grateful there were people who stepped in to help while they were away.

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