Charges are expected to be brought within a week to 10 days against the owners of a Forest Hill home where as many as 150 animals, dead and alive, were found following a fire late Monday night.
"It's not if charges will be filed, it's what charges we are going to file and what agencies are going to file them," Robert Thomas, a Harford County government spokesman, said Thursday afternoon.
Besides the county, the Maryland Department of Natural Resources will also bring charges against Donald and Nancy Kirk, of the 2400 block of Rocks Road just north of Jarrettsville Road, though Thomas declined to specify what those charges will be.
Firefighters dispatched to the home shortly after 11 p.m. Monday put out the fire in the kitchen, then during their search through the house, came upon numerous animals, mostly cats, some of which were alive, but many of which were dead.
Bel Air Volunteer Fire Company Chief Eddie Hopkins said firefighters tried to save some of the cats, but it was futile.
They tried to use their breathing masks on the cats that were still alive, doing what Hopkins termed a "blow by," hoping to "get them a shot of fresh air and they recover."
"Sadly, the cats were still sluggish, slow and, in my estimation, near death. Others the firefighters brought out were clearly deceased," he said Wednesday.
Initial estimates on how many animals were in the home and on the property varied, but it is estimated that as many as 70 to 80 animals were found dead, and another 70 to 75 animals were found alive. Besides the house, a mobile home converted to a storage trailer is also on the 2.3-acre property.
Fire marshals, who arrived at the property before animal control or building inspectors Tuesday morning, found 30 to 40 dead animals, including a dog, that had been removed from the home and buried.
When animal control and officials from the county's department of inspections, licenses and permits got to the home, they found "another 40-some animals deceased in refrigerators, freezers and on the property," Thomas said.
He said the county is not in a rush to file the charges.
"They will be brought in an appropriate time frame, but we don't want to make a rush to judgment," he said. "We want to make sure we collect all the evidence, document the situation well and take appropriate corrective actions."
The home is uninhabitable, Thomas said, not only because of the fire and smoke damage, but also because of the animals in the house.
The county has posted the Kirks property with appropriate notice as required by the county code regarding the property owners rights to attempt to recover the animals within 10 days.
The three living dogs removed are being held in quarantine for 45 days at a facility in Pennsylvania. Nine cats removed are being held separately to determine if they have been vaccinated for rabies, Thomas said.
Besides the county, fire marshal and Maryland Natural Resources, the Harford County Health Department and the State Health Department are also part of the investigation.
When firefighters arrived at a house fire late Monday night in the 2400 block of Rocks Road in Forest Hill, it wasn't anything unusual, besides that the house was about 1,000 feet off the road and surrounded by some thick brush.
"We found fire in the kitchen, we put it out," Eddie Hopkins, Chief of the Bel Air Volunteer Fire Company, said Wednesday. "From a firefighting perspective, it's a room and contents fire."
It wasn't until the fire was out and firefighters started checking for flames elsewhere in the house the situation became unusual.