Police were investigating after a fire at an animal breeding centre killed over 1,000 GUINEA PIGS. The tiny creatures died when a huge blaze ripped through a farm in the village of Little Cholewell near Okehampton, Devon.
Fire crews tackled the blaze in four barns which housed over a thousand guinea pigs and other creatures including rats and rabbits.
But the fire was so intense three firefighter teams were unable to save any of the animals, which are bred for domestic pets.
The alarm was raised at 12.30am on Tuesday when Karen Gregory, the owner of Cholewell Pets, found four barns, two vans, two cars and a caravan on fire.
The inferno was eventually extinguished at 3.20am and investigators are examining the scene to establish what caused the ‘significant’ fire.
But officers have been unable to rule out that the fire was started deliberately.
Friends say Karen and her family managed to save some animals before being beaten back fire and smoke.
Family friend Adam Spry said: ”We think the fire started in a small shed which had some domestic freezers in it.
”It spread to another shed, which had no livestock, but that burnt so strongly that it spread the shed next door to that.”
A Devon and Cornwall Police spokesman said they were called to the property at 1.45am by fire crews who suspected an arson attack.
He said: ”The premises trade as a centre for breeding domestic pets and contained over 1,000 domestic pets including rabbits, rats and mostly guinea pigs.
”Several fire appliances attended the fire. Unfortunately the fire service were unable to extinguish the fire resulting in all the animals being lost.
”At this time police and fire investigators are continuing to make enquiries to establish the cause of the fire and at this stage are unable to say whether this was deliberate or not.”
The fire ripped through four 20m x 20m (66ft x 66ft) barns but no-on was injured and Mrs Gregory and husband escaped unhurt.
They refused to comment yesterday and a spokesman for Devon and Somerset Fire and Rescue Service said investigations were continuing.
He said: “We received a call that a significant fire had occurred at an animal breeding centre in Lewdown, Okehampton, used for breeding domestic pets.
”Fire engines from Tavistock, Bere Alston and Launceston were mobilised to a report of a shed fire.
“On arrival the crew confirmed a barn well alight. The fire has resulted in the death of over 1,000 domestic pets including rabbits, guinea pigs and rats.
”We are at the scene to establish what happened and whether the fire was started deliberately.”