About 75 animals died in a blaze Thursday that destroyed the Longview home of a man who brings his reptiles, spiders and amphibians to schools and children's parties.
"Reptile Road Show" owner Garth Pithan was not home when callers reported flames at the rear of the house at 5041 Mount Solo Road at 12:52 p.m. Crews from Cowlitz 2 Fire & Rescue and Longview Fire arrived to find the fire burning at the back of the attic of the two-story, wood-frame house.
Pithan, 41, soon arrived and informed firefighters he had about 100 animals in the daylight basement. After the smoke cleared, Pithan was allowed to crawl inside through a window. As firefighters held flashlights, Pithan loaded the roughly 25 soot-smeared animals that survived into plastic tubs. Reached at a relative's home Thursday night, Pithan said he's keeping the survivors temporarily in his parents' basement, where he's turned up the heat to keep the cold-blooded reptiles warm.
The house is considered a total loss. Fire officials are trying to determine what caused the blaze but believe it was unintentional, Cowlitz 2 Lt. Jeremy Huff said Thursday night. Fire crews blocked off Mount Solo Road to traffic for three hours because hoses and fire trucks were in the road.
An R.A. Long High School graduate, Pithan works for Consolidated Electrical Distributors and runs his five-year-old "Reptile Road Show" business on the side.
"I lost about half the main animals that I brought to parties," said Pithan, who also regularly holds children's reptile handling and education classes for Longview Parks & Recreation. "It makes me sick starting to think about it. ... Some of these animals — money does not replace them. They're my friends."
The survivors include a 70-pound tortoise named Bowser and a Colombian red-tail boa named Angel. Vanilla, an albino Burmese python — a fan favorite — was badly burned and may not pull through, Pithan said. His dog, in the backyard, also survived.
But the losses are crushing. Among them: Booger the tiger salamander. Dexter the rattlesnake. Hulk the green-tree python. Corn snakes, leopard geckos, ball pythons, a reticulated python named Emma.
"This was just a side thing, my happy place. It's where I loved to be," said Pithan, who is staying with his girlfriend. "It was almost like a little slice of heaven for me."
"I don't know what tomorrow brings," he said. "I'm still kind of in shock."