WASILLA, Alaska (KTUU) - Ron Bernier, who has been breeding and training Labrador retrievers since 1989, says he's been replaying in his mind over and over what happened early Monday morning, when a fire broke out in his family's dog kennel, near Wasilla.
32 adult dogs escape the fire, but Bernier says 46 puppies that had been moved from the family's home to the kennel just two days before the fire, all died in the blaze.
Bernier says he was alerted to the fire at 1 a.m., when one of his children yelled that the kennel was on fire. "I just ran out of the house, trying to get to the kennel. I didn't even have shoes on. I was just in my stockings. The whole roof was on fire," he says.
Bernier says he tried repeatedly to enter the kennel, but flames, thick smoke and heat drove him back. He suffered burns on his arms and smoke inhalation.
It's another setback from a family already dealing with a difficult situation. "I was going to take and rebuild the kennels this summer and put up a new building and stuff," Bernier says, "But in May, I found out I have lymphoma, so that's kind of a game changer."
Lisa Carpenter, a veterinarian technician, put out an appeal for help, after hearing about the fire, even though she had never met the Bernier family.
"I kinda hoped that two or three would show up. You never know if they're actually going to make it, but there were probably 30 to 50 people throughout the night that showed up and gave us a hand," Carpenter says.
Tuesday afternoon, several friends and neighbors were at the family's home to help Ron Bernier, his wife, Jonnie, and their nine children begin the heartbreaking task of removing the debris from the fire. Pete Byrne, a family friend, says, "It's a tragedy. I mean the loss of the kennel [and] the disruption of their lives. It's something nobody feels good about."
Matt Hardwig, the chief animal control and care officer for the Mat Su Borough, says the Berniers were properly licensed to operate their kennel.
Chief John Fairchild of the West Lakes Fire Dept. says the cause of the fire is still under investigation.