An El Cajon home with dozens of rats, snakes and other reptiles went up in flames overnight Friday, killing almost all the animals except a fortunate few, including a 10-foot Burmese Python.
Richard Peterson legally breeds and sells reptiles from the garage in his home on Pepper Hill Drive in the Bostonia neighborhood of El Cajon. But that garage is where a fire sparked at about 5:45 a.m. Friday.
Luckily, his Mastiff named Sampson alerted the family to the blaze when he began barking uncontrollably. When his wife went to let the dog out, she noticed smoke coming from the garage, Peterson told NBC 7.
She grabbed a hose and tried to enter the garage to put out flames herself, but the smoke was too strong.
Firefighters with Heartland Fire and Rescue were called and arrived minutes later at the single-story home shortly after to battle the heavy smoke and fire pouring from the garage, according to the HFD.
Crews with Lakeside Fire Protection District and San Miguel Fire and Rescue joined the firefight and within about 20 minutes, the fire was knocked down, HFD Battalion Chief Tod Nelson said.
Heartland fire estimated that about 100 of snakes were inside the garage, unfortunately deceased. The garage also housed a rattery and many of the rats inside also died.
"I was in there looking just a second ago and I saw all the rats that didn’t make it, and it’s sad. People go, oh it’s a rat, but you know what, it’s an animal," Peterson said.
Luckily, the Petersons, Sampson, their chihuahua named Daisy and their Pug named Frankie were able to escape the fire. A few animals, including two tortoises, a lizard and a 10-foot long Burmese Python were also spared.
"The one snake that survived, his new name is Blaze," Peterson said with a chuckle.
Heartland fire estimated the blaze caused about $200,000 in damage to the structure of the building and $150,000 worth of damage to the contents of the building. The garage was destroyed while other parts of the home suffered smoke and heat damage.
Peterson also lost his breeding business to the blaze, but he was relieved his family and his three dogs were safe.
"I just finally got my collection established really good and my name out into the reptile community, and I had my little rattery going, and it’s just sad," Peterson said. "We walked away. They can be replaced but it’s just unfortunate how they died."
The family was displaced by the blaze and would not be able to return home. The Red Cross was called to assist the Petersons with living arrangements. The San Diego Humane Society is taking care of the animals who survived in the meantime.
While the Petersons were understandably shaken, no injuries were reported.