Firefighters face venomous snakes during blaze

Firefighters risk their lives every day while battling blazes, but it’s not often venomous snakes factor into the equation.

While extinguishing a house fire Tuesday on Silver Leaf Circle on James Island, crews were told to be mindful of up to 80 reptiles in the garage, mostly snakes with about a dozen reported to be poisonous.

“I’ve been doing this over 25 years, and this is my first call of this kind,” said James Island Fire Chief Chris Seabolt.

Crews responded to the blaze about 10 a.m., at which point the garage and attic of the home were pretty well involved, he said. A woman and her infant child escaped the home unharmed, along with four dogs in the backyard.

The homeowner, who works in nuisance wildlife removal, told firefighters about the reptiles and then a series of calls were made to area animal control units, the Department of Natural Resources and the Department of Health and Environmental Control.

None of the agencies had the experience with snakes or capability of handling them. The fire was under control within an hour, but firefighters couldn’t enter the home while deadly snakes were potentially on the loose.

“We certainly didn’t want to be poking around in there with live, venomous snakes, putting our crews in danger,” Seabolt said.

DNR suggested calling Edisto Serpentarium on Edisto Island for help. About two hours later, they responded to see if any of the snakes could be rescued. Seabolt said six snakes made it out alive, four of which were venomous. Some were water moccasins, he said, and at least one was 8 to 10 feet long.

He added that the reptiles were taken to the Serpentarium but their conditions were unknown. Seabolt said he was sad to report the other reptiles in the home, including some turtles, did not survive the fire.

“I really hate for stuff like that to happen to people,” he said of the losses.

The home was also significantly damaged in the blaze, which started near a breaker panel in the garage and spread to the attic and roof.

Seabolt said Charleston and St. Andrews fire departments and a battalion chief from Mount Pleasant assisted with the fire. He also said everyone worked well together considering the unusual call.

“Everybody was certainly on their toes,” he said, adding that it will likely be something they talk about for awhile.

Reach Melissa Boughton at 843-937-5594 or at Twitter.com/mboughtonPC.