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Fire at Stevens County shelter kills animals

Firefighters try to quench the flames at the Colville Valley Animal Sanctuary on Wednesday.
Firefighters try to quench the flames at the Colville Valley Animal Sanctuary on Wednesday.

Volunteers seek care for those surviving

Several animals died when a fire broke out in a building at a small Stevens County animal shelter Wednesday morning.

“The thing went up in just a matter of minutes,” said Lisa Gallagher, a volunteer at the Colville Valley Animal Sanctuary in Arden, Wash. “There’s really little left.”

Shelter volunteers rushed to save the trapped animals – one ran to retrieve a rifle from his vehicle and shoot out a window to get in – but no one could gain entry in time. Volunteers listened helplessly to the animals’ cries as the building burned to the ground.

A dog and two cats perished in the fire, which started in the single-story “Puppy Cabin” at 11:37 a.m. Fire crews, who arrived just three minutes later, believe a wood-burning stove caused the fire.

Joe Paccerelli, Stevens County Fire District 7 chief, said the building had no smoke alarm system, adding that they are not required in Stevens County.

“It definitely would have helped,” he said. “That’s why we support smoke alarms and fire alarms whenever possible.”

His biggest piece of advice to people with stoves in their shops: “check them often.”

Luckily, Gallagher said, most of the other animals had been let out for air and exercise.

The blaze was contained to one building, but the Puppy Cabin is a total loss. With temperatures in the low teens, volunteers are frantically seeking emergency foster care for the surviving animals that were staying in the heated Puppy Cabin, which was reserved for vulnerable animals that can’t handle the cold. So far, volunteers have temporarily taken some animals and the Spokane Humane Society has taken in a few displaced dogs.

There are about five more animals in need of emergency shelter as a result of the fire, Gallagher said, but they are always seeking foster care for the shelter’s other residents – between 50 and 100 animals that stay in a cold barn.

“It’s really horrible timing,” Gallagher said. “Our animals struggle as it is.”

She said one of the shelter’s biggest needs right now is some sort of insulated, portable shelter or storage building to house the animals.

“That would mean a whole lot to us right now,” she said.

The shelter, which survives solely on private donations, was already struggling before the fire, she said. The all-volunteer organization is “in desperate need of” more manpower and money. Many volunteers use money out of their own pockets to keep the shelter – the only one of its kind in the county – going each month.

“There’s not a need we don’t have,” she said. “It’s just heartbreaking. This has been a real devastating thing to have happen when you’re that close to the edge anyway.”

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