Bonita Springs Fla--Kennel Fire Claims 10 Lives--Fire Alarm Ignored
Human error doomed dogs
10 greyhounds die, others hurt after Bonita track fire
By Karen Feldman
Published by news-press.com on June 2, 2005
The fire alarm system at the Naples-Fort Myers Greyhound Track will be reassessed as a result of a fire early Wednesday that killed at least 10 dogs and injured dozens more.
The smoldering fire went undetected for almost four hours because a security guard checked the wrong kennel twice after alarms activated.
Between 30 and 40 firefighters, animal control officers and veterinarians from Lee and Collier counties converged on the Bonita Springs track to help save the dogs at the Gregory Wootten Kennel.
The dogs were found cowering in their cages, said Lt. Barry Brown, a paramedic lieutenant with the Bonita Springs Fire Control and Rescue District.
"The dogs were helpless. They didn't know what was going on," said Brown, a member of the Southwest Florida Urban Search and Rescue Team that includes firefighters trained to treat animals.
Brown said firefighters rescued 66 greyhounds from the smoke-filled kennel and evacuated an additional 48 from an adjacent kennel.
Two dog owners, Arlene and Gregory Wootten, were taken to Southwest Florida Regional Medical Center, where they were treated for smoke inhalation and released.
"We're heartbroken," Arlene Wootten said. "My dogs are like my kids. We try so hard and in one second, it's all gone."
Firefighters pulled dogs from their metal crates, carried them out of the concrete building and administered oxygen with masks meant for people.
"They were unbelievable," Arlene Wootten said of the rescuers. "I know it's their job to do this for people, but I can't believe they could be so good for dogs, too."
Fire officials said an alarm in the track guard shack signaled an electrical problem at 1:19 a.m. Wednesday, but the guard, whom track officials declined to identify, checked the wrong building.
The system activated again at 2:33 a.m., and the guard went to the wrong kennel a second time, Bonita Springs Fire Inspector Vaughn Spangler said.
Each time, the guard reset the alarm system before silencing it at 2:55 a.m., Spangler said.
"It was human error. It was unfortunate," said Wayne Beckman, security director of the track at 10602 Bonita Beach Road.
A faulty air conditioning system ignited dander and dust that had built up in the ducts, said Debbi Redfield, of the Bonita Springs fire department. The fire went out on its own, but the air conditioning system continued to blow smoke into the kennel, she said.
Track management will reassess the fire alarm system and will consider installing smoke detectors, Beckman said.
Track general manager Larry Baldwin said the fire is believed to be the worst disaster to befall the track since it opened in 1957.
Nine dogs died at the track and another died en route to a veterinary hospital. Fifty-six dogs were taken to seven area animal hospitals.
"Our hospital has been turned into a MASH unit," said Larry Gentsch, director of Dr. Amy's Animal Hospital in San Carlos Park, where 19 of the racers were treated.
Fifteen of the dogs were in critical condition but, hopefully, would survive, Gentsch said. He said all of the dogs were given oxygen and fluids, and their body temperatures were lowered because they were overheated by the fire.
Wootten said everything was fine when she and her husband left the kennel Tuesday night.
At 4:50 a.m. Wednesday, the couple returned, opened the kennel doors and found the room filled with smoke.
Fellow kennel owners Wilma and David Edwards arrived moments later.
As they drove toward the kennels, Arlene Wootten ran toward them.
"My husband almost ran over her. She was crying, 'Please help!' " Wilma Edwards said.
The Woottens called the fire department at 4:57 a.m., and firefighters arrived at 5:04 a.m., Redfield said. They stayed until about 3 p.m., Bonita fire Capt. Tim Broughton said.
A dozen kennels operate at the track. Each racing kennel usually houses 50 to 60 dogs.
Each is equipped with an internal fire alarm system that activates when the temperature exceeds 85 degrees, Spangler said. He said the system had passed recent inspections.
Track management is responsible for monitoring the temperature inside the kennels, and the kennel owners are responsible for the air conditioning systems, Beckman said.
The Wootten kennel was inspected in November and no violations were found, Bonita Springs assistant fire marshal Mark Goodman said. The building is inspected at least once every 18 months, he said.
Arlene Wootten has been a trainer at the track for 18 years, and her husband has raced there even longer. Dogs in the Woottens' kennel have earned the second highest amount of prize money — $283,442.09 — this year, said Dave Kempton, a track spokesman.
Dogs that survived the fire will never race again, Arlene Wootten said. Those that recover will be put up for adoption through Homeward Bound Greyhounds.
"The dogs are gone. It's pretty hard to start from nothing," she said.