Five dogs died in an RV fire that broke out at the American Kennel Club All-Breed Dog Show at the Florida State Fairgrounds in Tampa on Tuesday, Hillsborough County Fire Rescue officials said.
Bystanders saw smoke pouring out of the vents of an RV parked in a lot outside of the fairgrounds. Some called for help while others tried to run into the RV to rescue the dogs, but they were overcome by smoke and could not enter. By the time firefighters arrived about 2:45 p.m., flames engulfed 50% of the vehicle, said Chief Rob Herrin, a spokesperson for Hillsborough Fire Rescue.
No people were injured in the fire, but all five dogs inside died. Herrin said investigators are still determining the cause of the fire, but have ruled out foul play.
Dog owners nationwide have taken to Facebook to express their sympathy for the families who lost their dogs in the fire. A GoFundMe circulating on Facebook titled “Tragic RV Fire in Tampa Dog Show” had amassed more than $27,000 as of Wednesday afternoon.
“As most of the Boxer world is aware there was an RV fire at a Tampa dog show where multiple Boxers perished,” the GoFundMe description reads. “This money is not only to help the handlers and any survivor dogs (if any) get home, but to also serve as a down payment for another RV.”
Many are posting their condolences for Rick and Mandy Justice, who they say were the owners of the RV and handlers of the dogs inside.
The Justices are professional dog handlers, according to dog show magazine Showsight.
“Tragedy struck the Sunshine State Cluster in Tampa, Florida when the RV owned by Rick Justice caught fire and burned,” dog publication The Canine Chronicle wrote on Facebook. “The fire spread rapidly preventing anyone from getting into the vehicle and the dogs within it perished due to smoke inhalation. Events like this that are beyond anyone’s control are the greatest fears we face when traveling to dog shows week-in and week-out. Our hearts are with the Justice family, and their clients, owners and breeders of the dogs lost in this accident.”
A picture of a lit candle with the words “prayers for our dog show family in Florida” written across the image has been circulating after the tragedy.
“We had a fellow exhibitor lose all of his dogs to a sudden motorhome fire here in Tampa,” one Facebook user wrote as a caption for the image. “It has taken its toll on all of us, and no one can understand how they feel. It is the most tragic accident that can happen to any one of us. Please be kind and considerate and if you have an opinion, keep it to yourself. Pray for Mandy and Ricky. My heart goes out to you both and the families.”