Electrical problem to blame for devastating fire at Lawrence Pet - KCTV5

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Electrical problem to blame for devastating fire at Lawrence Pet World

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LAWRENCE, KS (KCTV) -

The cleanup is underway at the Pet World Store in Lawrence, but the tears still come as fast and furious as the water that firefighters poured on the flames.

Investigators said the cause of the fire was accidental due to an electrical issue in the main breaker panel. Damage is estimated at $500,000.

The owners posted a message to their faithful customers on Tuesday, saying they would rebuild. They also detailed the animals that were spared and their heartbreak over those that died.

None of the mammals or birds survived the fire reported at 12:30 p.m. Monday. Smoke poured out of the front and back doors of the store at 711 W. 23rd St.

It took firefighters almost 45 minutes to enter the store, which was closed to allow the staff to participate in a 5K run at the store's tortoise farm. The employees had stopped by earlier in the day to feed them.

All of the ferrets, rabbits, chinchillas and exotic birds inside the store perished after breathing in the thick black smoke.

Crews were on hand to assist the animals, but just reptiles, iguanas and turtles survived. Oxygen was given to some creatures including an iguana. The store's giant Burmese python, Goliath, survived.

Firefighters, area vets and others in the area rushed in to help save the animals. Workers at a nearby hardware store provided small swimming pools for the animals. People brought in water, ice and towels. The parking lot became a triage center for animals.

Rescuers whisked the turtles to safety as fast as they could. Goliath was washed off in front of people who were normally afraid of it but so relieved that the snake survived.

It took seven hours to search the store for any animals who survived. The rodents, hamsters and gerbils that were in a separate building behind the store are OK.

The inside of the store was gutted. Much of the damage happened near the back of the building near the electrical grid.

"I can't imagine Lawrence, KS, without Pet World in it," said Sherry Emerson, the store's co-owner.

She shared her grief-stricken thoughts in a message for customers and friends on Tuesday.

"The pets all looked as if they had been sleeping in the rain. The pet loss was horrible but they were not burned. I don't know why but for some reason we find this comforting to know," she wrote. "We've been assured that all the warm-blooded animals died quickly from fumes and smoke."

She detailed the store's loss.

"There were no dogs in the building. One adoptable kitten, Mindy, perished from the fumes and smoke. Fletcher, the store bird did not survive and Queen Latifah, the store Crested Gecko, also did not survive. Many reptiles survived, including Carlita, Mushu, and Goliath. The large rescue tortoises were already at the tortoise farm," she wrote.

She offered her heartfelt and detailed thanks to those who have helped out. Click here to read more.

Customers are rallying around the store and its 20-plus member staff, who are now unemployed.

"I want them to know how much Lawrence cares about them and can't wait for them to reopen," Carolyn Reese-Kasson said.

The store was a Mom-and-Pop store and longtime customers stopped by to comfort employees and share in their grief. Counselors are helping the grieving staff members.

"It's our store and we want to support the local business," Beverly Lockwood said. "It's going to be a huge loss."

The store opened 25 years ago.

Customers talked about holding animals and learning so much from the staff about the animals and their care.

"It's a tremendous loss," Lockwood said. "They're good people. I hate to see this."

Pet World ownership promises updates on its Facebook page. Click here.

Copyright 2015 KCTV (Meredith Corp.) All rights reserved

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