WASILLA — Ron and Jonnie Bernier lost five or six litters of Labrador retriever puppies to an early morning barn fire Monday at the couple's Alaska Labradors breeding and training facility in Meadow Lakes.
Ron Bernier, who has a rare form of lymphoma, suffered burns and smoke inhalation that landed him in the intensive-care unit at Mat-Su Regional Medical Center, his wife, Jonnie, said by phone Monday afternoon. He checked himself out of the hospital against medical advice to come home and help.
The couple has nine children, ages 1 to 15.
Jonnie Bernier said they got about 40 adult dogs — "all the moms" — out of the heated dog kennel safely but she didn't know exactly how many puppies died in the fire. The survivors included 12 breeding females and five males, as well as retired dogs.
Her husband knew how many puppies they lost, but he was too busy Monday afternoon to talk on the phone.
"I'm just so exhausted," Bernier said.
She tried to get some sleep before 5 a.m., only to realize the boiler wasn't working so the heat in the house was off. The electric fence keeping in the family's 20 cows is also off because the power was cut during the fire. The cows are out, though Bernier said she's not worried about herding them back once the fence is fixed.
Asked what kind of help was needed, she said, "I don't even know. We're just trying to put dog kennels together."
A local animal rescuer spent Monday organizing a group of volunteers to bring what help they could.
Lisa Carpenter, a veterinary technician involved with several rescue groups, didn't know the Berniers personally but got a call from a relative asking if she could use her connections to help. Carpenter posted an alert on Facebook around noon Monday.
By late afternoon, she said she expected to bring a group of 10 to 15 volunteers to the Bernier place: two electricians; people bringing kennels for the surviving dogs; people buying dog food; and somebody on base who's delivering 10 pizzas Monday night.
Carpenter spent the afternoon picking up dog food, she said. "I just put the post out. I had no idea it would get that much attention."
The fire was reported around 1 a.m. Monday, fire officials say.
Flames were already consuming part of the large dog and livestock barn when the first responders from West Lakes Fire Department arrived, West Lakes Chief John Fairchild said. Firefighters knocked down the fire from the outside, then went inside, stopping the fire before it reached the livestock pens, Fairchild said.
About 20 to 25 people, engines and tankers responded from West Lakes, Central Mat-Su and Houston fire departments.
The cause of the fire is under investigation, Fairchild said.
This story has been updated to include information about the adult dogs that survived the fire.