Shelter fire kills dozens of animals

LAKE ELSINORE For the shelter's director, Willa Bagwell, it was a sight that was just too difficult to take in, and a reality that's devastating for the people that work at the shelter.

"We don't pay good wages, the people are here because they care about the animals. And unfortunately, I mean usually they are here for a short time so we don't get so attached. Fifteen of the cats, in the room that it started in, we have had for four months. We picked them up on a cruelty case so we've all grown attached to them. We've had them groomed," said Willa Bagwell, shelter director.

Some of the animals were waiting to be adopted, others were lost pets waiting to be reunited with their owners. None of them had a chance.

"That's where it hit the heart. They didn't have a chance. In a trailer like this, it goes up so fast there would be no way for anybody to get in here and get them out," said Monique Middleton, Animal Control.

A shelter security guard detected smoke around 4:30 a.m. and dialed 911. Riverside County fire crews arrived around 5 a.m. and had the fire under control within 20 minutes, said fire department spokeswoman Massiel De Guevara. She identified the cause of the blaze as electrical.

Some say the fire never should have happened in the first place. The people are supposed to be moving into a more permanent structure in another city, but resident Betty Taylor says because of red tape they're still waiting for that structure to be built.

"This wouldn't have been as bad if we had a new shelter, because we would have had better buildings. We would have had better fire protection and even if we would have had a fire it wouldn't have probably been this bad," said Betty Taylor, a resident.

The shelter estimates the damage to be between $150,000 to $200,00. The loss of the Puppy Trailer will mean a shortage of space at the animal shelter, and officials were looking to the public for help.

No other animals at the kennel were harmed in the blaze. The facility also impounds some animals for the county and takes in a variety of small creatures, including chickens, ducks, rabbits and snakes.

To contact the Animal Friends of the Valleys shelter, call (951) 674-0618.

To help the Animal Friends of the Valleys shelter, you can donate to the Guaranty Bank, account number 3806348110.

Eyewitness News reporter Rob McMillan and CNS contributed to this report.


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