Firefighters in Barre, Vermont, were warned they may get bitten by exotic snakes while battling a smoky blaze early Thursday morning, the city’s deputy chief said. The fire, which broke out at 1:50 in the morning on Highland Avenue in the city, killed several of the exotic pets, he said.
"For somebody that doesn't see them often, it kind of takes you aback," said Deputy Chief Joe Aldsworth of the Barre City Fire Department, describing the exotic snakes in the apartment house.
Aldsworth told New England Cable News an initial report of a hundred-plus snakes, kept as pets, was exaggerated. He suspected that rumor spread through a combination of social media posts and word-of-mouth misunderstandings.
Aldsworth did say there were three lizards in the property, and 13 expensive snakes. He described some of the snakes as being quite large. "There were some three-footers," he said. "They were pretty fat."
Aldsworth said he really appreciated that the tenant warned firefighters about the snakes, and how they could strike firefighters due to fear of the situation. No firefighters were bitten, Aldsworth said, and the resident told him none of the snakes was poisonous.
Firefighting efforts were able to contain the majority of the damage to one room in the apartment house, according to a news release from the Vermont State Police. The property loss was estimated to be $10,000, the release said.
Most of the damage was from smoke and water, Aldsworth noted. He added that most of the snakes died in the incident.
A detective from the Vermont State Police responded to the scene, and determined the fire was not suspicious; but a specific cause could not be immediately pin-pointed, the news release said. Aldsworth said the big snakes did have heating lamps, but reiterated that the cause of the fire is under investigation.
"He was extremely cooperative," Mayor Thom Lauzon of Barre said of the tenant of the property.
Lauzon told NECN he looked into the legality of what he was told was a home snake-breeding operation at the property. Lauzon said it appeared the tenant did his due diligence and checked with the Vermont Department of Fish & Wildlife on what varieties of snakes are allowed in Vermont. The types of reptiles in the home were perfectly legal, Lauzon said.
However, the mayor said he believed the man lacked permits. "This gentleman was allegedly breeding snakes for resale," Lauzon said. "That is a home occupation, and in the city, if you're running a business out of your home--this is a residential neighborhood--you're required to contact the folks at planning and zoning and be licensed for that business. This gentleman--I don't believe he did that."
Lauzon said there were other permits the man required. "In the City of Barre, if you have a snake--or any animal for that matter, chickens, horses, dogs and cats--you're required to license them," Lauzon said. "And I'm not aware that any of the snakes were licensed."
The tenant declined to talk to NECN about the reptiles or other details of the fire, saying only, "No comment."
As for the human residents of the property, Aldsworth said five suffered smoke inhalation. He added that they will be ok.