ORLANDO, Fla. - Volunteers at the Pet Alliance of Greater Orlando stood out on the front grass, huddled together a day after a deadly and destructive fire tore through the animal shelter.
They stared in disbelief at the remains of the building. While it may still seem surreal for many, they expressed gratitude that most of the animals inside made it out safely.
It was officers at the Orange County Animal Services, directly across the street from Pet Alliance, who first noticed the smoke after 10 p.m. Wednesday night. Those officers were some of the first to rush over.
Orange County Sheriff's Office
"If you run a shelter, this is literally your worst nightmare," said Steve Bardy, the executive director of The Pet Alliance.
Body camera footage from Orange County sheriff's deputies shows them grabbing as many dogs as possible through the smoke and darkness. With help from other first responders and volunteers, they pulled out as many animals as they could.
"They basically created a daisy chain of officers to bring the animals out that so they wouldn’t have to spend too much time inside," said Bryant Almeida of Orange County Animal Services.
Firefighters said the maze of rooms and debris inside the shelter caused a number of issues. Tight corridors and dead ends made it hard for them to reach the flames.
"The fire was so overwhelming that we had to get crews out for a little bit and attack it from our areal streams," explained Orange County Fire Rescue Battalion Chief Steve Sherrill.
Once the flames were knocked down, volunteers sifted through the rubble in search of more animals. A total of 26 dogs and 25 cats were saved. One black cat named Emerald was found safe under a chair in chest-deep water.
"They are all little miracles," said clinic manager Candace Hatch.
There are 16 cats that didn’t make it out but the volunteers aren’t giving up quite yet.
"With cats you know there could always be one more somewhere," said Bardy.
The survivors have been taken to the Pet Alliance in Sanford. Bardy said some of the animals are already being adopted. Even one of the firefighters who rescued a cat has gone up to rescue that same cat again by giving him a permanent home.
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Now, The Pet Alliance is in need of donations. The organization took to social media to make a plea for support.
"I was heartbroken. I was heartbroken because I know they need the help." Nadine James was stepped up to help.
She went with supplies to the Sanford location where the animals are now being housed and collections are underway.
Some of the main items they need include towels, wet cat food, cleaning products, and financial donations."I just dropped off towels and I have some wet cat food because it was one of the first things they said they needed," said James.
Officials say volunteers are not necessary right now just supplied and money. To donate go to petallianceorlando.org.
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