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No indication of criminal intent in Georgetown pet resort fire as remains are returned to families

The City of Georgetown said the investigation remains ongoing.

GEORGETOWN, Texas — One day after a tragic fire at a Georgetown pet resort claimed the lives of 75 dogs, the remains of their loved ones are starting to be returned to the families involved.

According to the City of Georgetown, as of Monday, there has been no indication that the fire at the Ponderosa Pet Resort was criminal in nature. However, the investigation into the cause of the fire remains ongoing and is expected to last into next week as officials continue to review the scene and video evidence, as well as continue interviews.

Officials say the owner of the resort is working to reunite the dogs with their families at an alternate location. An email from the resort with that information has been sent to the 59 families who lost their pets.

“As part of this investigation, we have been working closely with the owner, and our combined focus is to reunite families with loved ones,” Fire Chief John Sullivan said. “We understand people want answers. We want answers, too. We have to make sure we’re evaluating all the facts, so we can understand what happened, so we can better prevent this in the future.”

Federal, Texas and Georgetown fire codes do not require sprinkler systems for the use and size of this facility. City code requires sprinklers for occupancies listed and operating as a business of at least 10,000 square feet. Ponderosa Pet Resort is only 8,125 square feet.

"The City’s requirement supersedes and is more restrictive than national code requirements. City has been reviewing its fire codes, and we expect to present recommended updates to City Council in fall 2021," the City of Georgetown said. "As a result of this incident, we also will evaluate options that could impose additional safeguards in animal care facilities. The Georgetown Fire Department last inspected the facility in 2015, at which time we found no violations to the fire code. The use of the facility is considered a low fire risk, and the use and structure have not changed since the inspection."

Georgetown's Animal Services Department regulates the care and keeping of animals in kennels through an ordinance issued in 2013.

"The ordinance regulates such requirements as food, water, sanitary conditions and health. It does not require sprinklers, smoke alarms or 24/7 staffing," Georgetown officials said. "All kennels within the Georgetown city limits are required to have a kennel permit. The business from Saturday’s fire does not have a kennel permit; however, the requirements of the permit do not address such safety measures as fire suppression and warning systems. We know this business is not the only one to operate without a kennel permit, and the City is working to increase awareness, education and enforcement about this requirement."

Phillip Paris of Ponderosa Pet Resort released the following statement Monday evening:

"I am emotionally overwhelmed by the accidental fire on Saturday night at our business, Ponderosa Pet Resort LLC. Fifty-nine families are affected, and their best friends won’t be coming home. As a dog owner, I feel their heartbreak intensely. 

"I would like to give credit to the Georgetown, Texas, fire department, who arrived within four minutes of the first notification of the fire. Because of the smoke and carbon monoxide already in the air, the firefighters were unable to rescue any of the dogs. The firefighters, others on the scene and I were devastated by this. 

"While the fire is under investigation by the Fire Marshal, I can’t comment on the cause, but I am 100% certain that the fire was accidental. Ponderosa Pet Resort has been in business for over 11 years and I have been working with dogs for 24 years, and have never encountered circumstances like these. 

"We know you have questions about how something like this may be prevented in the future, as do we. I assure you we will seek out those answers and eagerly await information from the Fire Marshal. 

"A professional veterinarian in Georgetown is overseeing the removal of each pet’s remains with dignity and extreme care, and the veterinarian and I are in contact with each of the 59 families. I have provided them with my personal cell phone number and the veterinarian’s contact information, so that they may talk to us and advise us on how the family would like to receive the precious remains. 

"My staff and I have been busy since Sunday morning contacting each family, and we have now done so. We are working through the fog of our own grief, but we know each family is pained more than we are. It is soul-wrenching to lose a friend suddenly and without warning. I realize this and grieve for each life lost and the families disrupted by this tragedy.”

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