GEORGETOWN, Texas (KXAN) — It’s been nearly four months since 75 dogs were killed in a fire at the Ponderosa Pet Resort in Georgetown, leaving dozens of grieving families behind. Investigators said there was no staffing at the pet resort overnight at the time, and the facility didn’t have a fire suppression system.

On Tuesday, Georgetown Fire Department Chief John Sullivan presented recommendations to city council to prevent a situation like this from happening again.

“Many people, myself included, believe animals are extensions of our family,” Sullivan said. “As a direct result of this unspeakable loss for 59 of our Georgetown families, we have taken a hard look at how our building codes can require fire-safety measures that can protect our four-legged family members.”

The proposed amendments would require animal housing or care facilities used for the temporary or permanent housing of animals to:

  • Provide an electronically supervised, automatic smoke-detection system or quick-response heat detectors, if the facility doesn’t have a sprinkler system.
  • Consider 24-hour, on-site supervision.
  • Ensure the interior finish on kennel-boarding walls has a Class A finish.
  • Install automatic sprinkler systems in certain circumstances, including when such facilities do not have walls made of fire-resistant materials or where every animal does not have immediate, unobstructed access outside.
  • Install electronically supervised carbon monoxide detection systems where the animals are kept, if not under constant supervision.

Georgetown Fire says its investigation found the fire started in the kennel area about 10:40 p.m. in September. Investigators said building material may have contributed to the smoke spread, and interior smoke conditions changed rapidly at approximately 10:52pm.

The department said it has already taken steps to prevent similar incidents in the future, including auditing and inspecting the 26 animal care facilities in the Georgetown area and adding animal housing or care facilities to its annual list.

Kelly Thyssen lost her dog, Fiona, in the fire at Ponderosa Pet Resort. She said she had Fiona for more than nine years, and she was an integral part of her business as well as a big part of her family.

Fiona running through the bluebonnets. Courtesy: Kelly Thyssen
Fiona running through the bluebonnets. Courtesy: Kelly Thyssen

“She traveled the state with me to provide pet CPR and first aid training to pet owners and pet professionals. She was everyone’s best friend and knew no enemies in life, except maybe fireworks. Losing her in such a tragic way was gut wrenching, and the last four months, I have spent trying to overcome and grow from this loss,” Thyssen said.

In her career as an animal control officer, Thyssen said she has seen many tragedies, including responding to fires and having to be the one to tell a pet owner their pet was unable to be saved. She said this event has impacted her and her family on several levels.

Kelly Thyssen and her dog, Fiona. Courtesy: Kelly Thyssen
Kelly Thyssen and her dog, Fiona. Courtesy: Kelly Thyssen

“I am thankful that the City of Georgetown is working towards incredible changes that will hopefully save lives, both animal and people lives. I feel the proposed changes to the fire code are a great beginning and will lead to setting a necessary precedent to move toward changes in state and federal code,” Thyssen said. “This fire, as tragic as it was for so many families, does have a silver lining, and that is to shine a light on the need to provide better standards in the animal industry as a whole.”

Georgetown fire investigators have classified the cause of the fire as undetermined. They have hypothesized six potential causes of what might have happened on Sept. 18, 2021, and all are linked to the electrical equipment at the site.

“The Georgetown Fire Department and others spent the past four months reviewing the scene of the fire, conducting interviews, performing testing and more, trying to determine what happened and give the families and our community closure,” Sullivan said. “While we couldn’t specify the exact cause, we have ruled out several and have narrowed it down to six possible causes. We’ve also taken and proposed steps that will help mitigate such devastating losses in the future, so we can learn from this tragedy and do better by our beloved pets.”

Sullivan said they found six electrical devices near the north interior wall of the facility where video surveillance shows the fire started. Investigators said they were unable to rule out any of the six devices as the cause for the fire and whether the electrical circuits were overloaded.

Here are the six hypotheses from investigators:

  • One of two blower motors failed and melted plastic around them to its ignition point.
  • The air purifier failed and melted the plastic to its ignition point.
  • The rodent deterrent ignited in the wall plug and caught the surrounding material on fire.
  • The extension cord failed, melted through sheathing and caught the surrounding material on fire.
  • The insect killer created an environment that sustained a flame and melted, catching area around it on fire.
  • Failure of building electrical system.

Attorney Ard Ardalan represents several pet owners who are suing Ponderosa Pet Resort. He said they hope Georgetown’s code changes can be a model for other municipalities across Texas and the nation.

“While we are frustrated that the fire department cannot conclusively determine the root cause of the fire, we know that the fire was both preventable and likely would have been put out earlier had there been any fire detection system at the unlicensed kennel,” Ardalan said. “We are encouraged that the city is taking concrete steps to address kennel safety. Many of the proposed changes are inexpensive, common-sense solutions that will save precious lives in the future.”

Investigators said structural damage from the fire was estimated at $757,000.