MARION COUNTY, Fla. --
A 75-year-old woman and her 44 dogs were killed in a house fire in Marion County Sunday night. Initially, investigators thought as many as 70 dogs were inside.
State Fire Marshal investigators were on scene Monday to investigate the cause of the fire.
Only five Chihuahuas survived the blaze, but 44 didn't. Their owner, Sigreid Dottie Bigos, was found lifeless, 10 feet from the front door by Marion County firefighters.
It was 8:30 Sunday night when Tom Hurle dialed 911 after waking up to the sound of the dogs frantically barking.
Hurle tried to save his neighbor. He went to the front door and tried to kick it in, but he couldn't. He said there were cages blocking his way.
"Then I went to the back side of the house and the heat was just too much," Hurle said.
Firefighters were in an uphill battle. The double-wide mobile home on NE 38th Terrace was already 70 percent engulfed in flames when they showed up.
"Within a minute of entering the house, they found a woman lying on the floor they actually picked her up and took her outside the home," said Miranda Iglesias, Marion County Fire Rescue.
More than 12 hours after the fire ignited, Chihuahuas that had been loose inside the house, and apparently escaped during the fire, continued to return home. Bigos was a breeder and was selling them for $150.
Bigos' family members visited the charred damage Monday.
"I started tearing up a little bit because just to see that, because I'm not sure what she went through. Did she suffer? Did she not?" said Audriana Bigos, the victim's granddaughter.
WFTV found out the homeowner was a dog breeder with a tainted reputation, according to some in the field. Lilly Baron with Saving Animals for Everyone, a non-profit animal rescue organization, told WFTV she's received complaints about the deceased homeowner owning more than 100 dogs at one time.
"I got a lot of calls on her saying she was a hoarder.She had no money and wanted to trade dogs for dog food," said Baron. "I mean, what is a person doing with 70, 80 dogs in the house? She had over a hundred at one time."
Baron said the tragedy could have been prevented if Marion County Animal Services stepped in earlier and removed the dogs from the home.
Animal services told WFTV that they had been to the home in August and found that the dogs were well-fed and taken care of properly. The only issue was that some of the dogs were not vaccinated and needed their tags, but they were working on resolving that issue.
It is unknown whether or not the home had operating fire detectors, or what the cause of the blaze was. The mobile home was known, however, for having electrical issues.
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