Firefighters saved more than 100 pets, including dogs, cats, parrots and iguanas after a blaze broke out in a suburban home.
Crews calmed six frightened dogs before leading dozens of other animals to safety at the terraced house in Southampton .
Two soot-covered dogs and a ferret were even resuscitated by firefighters using oxygen masks, but four animals – a dog, cat, ferret and a bird – could not be saved after they were overcome by smoke.
The t ortoises and iguanas were given antibiotics and monitored by a specialist exotic pet vet to treat them for smoke inhalation, and the dogs were also treated by vets.
Jim Green, the animal rescue manager for Hampshire Fire and Rescue Service, said firefighters were met with a “dramatic” and “panicked” scene when they arrived at Seafield Road in the Redbridge area of the city shortly after 9am, with smoke billowing from the house.
The occupants were out but a neighbour had noticed a fire in the kitchen and called emergency services.
Mr Green said firefighters initially thought there were people still inside when they first entered, and had to negotiate a large tortoise in the middle of the living room as they searched for occupants in the smoke-filled property.
He said: “It was a fairly stressful situation. There was a lot of smoke about and it was quite a panicked scene when crews arrived. They turned up to quite a dramatic scene and smoke was coming from various parts of the building.”
It was only when they started tackling the blaze and ventilating the building to get rid of the smoke that they realised they were not faced with a normal domestic set-up.
The three-bedroom property was home to an enormous menagerie of pets, including dogs, cats, parrots, chickens, turkeys, ducks, two iguanas, a chameleon, 11 tortoises, four fish, mice, rats, guinea pigs, ferrets and rabbits.
Mr Green said: “Walking through the door it was pretty normal, but the living accommodation had animals in cages. It wasn’t a mess, it was a very tidy set-up. These people are pet lovers and they just collect a variety of different species.
“They were all contained in cages but they did restrict the space for firefighters and there was a large tortoise in the middle of the floor that did restrict their movement a bit.”
Many of the animals were kept in cages. Some lived in tanks and others, including the poultry, were safely away from the fire and smoke in the garden.
Firefighters rounded up some of the animals and moved them to safety in a room away from the blaze, which they managed to contain to the kitchen. Neighbours also helped other pets out of the front and rear doors.
Mr Green said: “One of the neighbours who tried to get in through the rear door to get the dogs out took a lung full of smoke as he was attempting that, and was treated at the scene.
“It was when the firefighters realised there was no in there that they turned their attention to the dogs. They gave them oxygen and probably saved their lives.”
Animal-loving neighbours who had their own reptiles checked the tortoises and took them in, and others in the community stepped in to offer support and help to some of the animals that were evacuated.
Mr Green said crews initially thought they would have to evacuate all the animals from the house and turn off the electrical supply, which would have affected the animal tanks, but instead came up with a plan with the home’s owners so that many of the animals could remain in the property.
The couple, who have not been named and who Mr Green believes live at the house with their children, were shocked by what had happened.
He said: “You can imagine that these animals are their lives. You can understand how people’s emotions will be at the time. This family were very calm and understood that there was nothing really that they could do.”
Mr Green also praised the swift work of the firefighters, which he said saved dozens of lives.
He said: “Their quick action prevented the situation being a lot worse. It was a developing fire and was rapidly developing in the kitchen, and they did really well to extinguish it as they did. With that number of animals and that degree of intensity of fire they did really well. I would have expected a lot more in terms of fatalities judging by the intensity of the fire that they had been dealing with.
“It was well contained very quickly and they undoubtedly saved the lives of more than 100 animals.”
Jason Brattle, the watch manager in charge of the scene, added: “Crews worked extremely hard to control the fire whilst being faced with an unusual situation involving so many animals.
“As crews gained entry they were exposed to six dogs who would naturally protect their property and were scared. Firefighters dealt with the situation extremely well to knock down the fire and save so many animals.”
A fire service spokeswoman said it was believed that all the animals were domestic pets and that none are missing. The RSPCA also attended the scene.
The cause of the fire is unknown but the house had no smoke detectors, the fire service said.
It is the latest in a series of fires that have claimed the lives of dogs in recent weeks.
Last Sunday a fire at a private breeder’s home in Hornsea, East Yorkshire, killed 20 Staffordshire bull terriers being kept in cages in the wooden-structured property.
And on September 11 a blaze at Manchester Dogs Home left 53 dogs dead. Firefighters rescued 150 animals and well-wishers pledged more than £1.2 million in less than 48 hours after the suspected arson attack.
A 15-year-old boy arrested on suspicion of starting the blaze has since been released on bail.