16 dogs killed in ‘devastating’ York animal rescue fire

On a long dirt drive off a secondary road south of York, there was the sound of barking dogs, the sight of trees still covered with ice and the smell of bitter burning wood mixed with acrid flesh.

This was the aftermath of a Wednesday morning fire that engulfed three structures at Richardson Rescue, killing 16 dogs housed inside an office building. One dog inside the building survived the fire and was taken to an area animal hospital.

“It’s so horrible for us I can’t even describe it,” Janet Richardson said through tears, cradling a dog against her chest. Richardson has co-owned and operated the animal rescue since 2003.

Undetermined cause

Around 4:30 a.m., Richardson and her husband, Scott Richardson, awoke to the sound of barking dogs. Dozens of dogs waiting to be adopted were housed in kennels behind the Richardson home. When the couple looked out the window, they saw flames and smoke and called 911.

“There was nothing left by the time I got out there,” Scott Richardson said.

The fire consumed an office building, a storage building and a laundry area.

Firefighters from McConnells, Bethesda and York fire departments responded. In all, 19 firefighters used three tankers, a service truck and an engine to battle the blaze for five hours, said McConnells Fire Chief Kevin Hayes.

“We got out as quick as we could,” Hayes said. “There was nothing we could save.”

The cause of the fire is undetermined. Investigator Charles Williamson said the fire originated in a part of the building with a space heater and some other electrical components but the damage was too extensive to prove exactly what started the blaze.

‘I failed the dogs’

Among the 16 dogs that died were a beagle with four three-week-old puppies, several chihuahuas and two terrier puppies, a pregnant dog and a blind dog.

“I feel like I failed the dogs,” Janet Richardson said.

But beyond those lives, the Richardsons are dealing with additional loss.

“The (office) trailer had everything we ever owned,” she said.

In that space were desks, computers, countless files and photos of every dog ever adopted out of Richardson. There were thousands of dollars worth of medication and a microchip machine. In the laundry area, there was a grooming tub, grooming supplies and two washers and two dryers.

All that remained after the fire were twisted metal, charred, unidentifiable material and burned paper, sticking together in clumps from the heat and the water used to put out the fire.

“It took us years to get all of that,” Richardson said. “I’ve never had anything so devastating.”

Trying to rebuild

Richardson Rescue’s most pressing need is a new office building, Richardson said. Without a place to work out of, she said it will be difficult to continue operations for adopting out the 65 cats and dogs that survived.

Within hours of the fire, Richardson said she’d already been contacted by area veterinarians and shelters, offering to donate medication or other items the rescue might need, but she knows their resources are limited.

Richardson Rescue, a certified nonprofit organization, is the largest on-site rescue in the area, she said. They have animals from surrounding counties in both North and South Carolina, including animals from other shelters, animal control, owner surrenders and animals that have been abused or neglected.

Scott and Janet Richardson’s own home is full of dogs and cats with special needs or have just managed to find a way into their hearts.

Support from the public is going to be the only way they’re going to be able to rebuild, Janet Richardson said.

Rachel Southmayd •  803-329-4072

Want to help?

Richardson Rescue accepts monetary donations at richardsonrescue.org or facebook.com/Richardsonrescue.

Anyone wanting to donate medicine, grooming supplies or other items – even a trailer – can visit the rescue at 1968 Garvin Road, York, or call 803-684-6865.