Family of 5 escapes Arlington house fire that killed snakes, ferrets

State Fire Marshal investigating cause of blaze

By Crystal Chen - Assignment editor/reporter, Ashley Harding - Reporter, Destiny McKeiver - Multi-media journalist

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - A family of five safely escaped an Arlington house fire early Thursday morning, but the family members told News4Jax that dozens of boa constrictors and three ferrets were killed in the blaze. 

The State Fire Marshal is investigating the house fire, which happened about 3:30 a.m. on Caribbean Drive, not far from Cesery Boulevard near Jacksonville University. 

Jerry Fernandes said his wife, adult son, 8-month-old granddaughter and brother were all asleep when the house caught on fire. The smell of smoke woke Fernandes' brother, Jeff, who was asleep on the couch.

“When I woke up, I went into the kitchen, the back corner of the house, there was no fire,” Jeff Fernandes said. "But outside the window, I could see fire and, like I said, the whole ceiling was full of smoke. So, it had to be electrical."

He jumped into action and alerted the rest of the family to get out.

"I was trying to look at where the fire was. Already, the house was engulfed," Jerry Fernandes said. "So the baby, my wife, my son -- we all ran outside. I couldn't get my keys, couldn't get anything. Everything just went. I mean, it was real quick."

According to the Jacksonville Fire and Rescue Department, the flames were so intense that when firefighters arrived, they could see flames shooting 20 to 30 into the air. Firefights said they also had to deal with a lack of hydrants in the neighborhood. Three tankers of water were called in, along with approximately 17 units, to battle the flames.

“I didn’t know which way to go. I couldn’t see anything, going around trying to gather (my) wife, make sure everybody got out. I just thank God he was sleeping on the couch," Jerry Fernandes said as he put his arm around his brother. "He’s my brother. I’m glad he came down from New York. It’s great. It’s beautiful. Everyone got out safe, so thank God.”

Firefighters managed to extinguish the fire from the inside to protect the family's belongings. Jerry Fernandes and his family will be receiving assistance from the American Red Cross.

"They took all the information for prescription medicine. My wife is diabetic, and the baby does need medicine from the flames," Jerry Fernandes said. "All I have are my boots and my pants."

Jerry Fernandes' son said the fire is hitting him the hardest. He owned 45 boa constrictors and was breeding them in the home. He said all but a few were killed in the fire. According to the family, the boa constrictors were worth more than $50,000.

VIDEOS: Snakes, ferrets killed in Arlington house fire | Reptile expert says snakes may have had something to do with house fire

The reptiles can grow to be up to 11 feet long, and are known for showing color and pattern variation throughout their bodies. They are legal to have as pets and to breed in Florida, according to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. 

Bob Schumaker, a reptile expert who provides snake education with the LB Reptile Experience, said snakes are coldblooded and they sit underneath lights. News4Jax was told the family housed the snakes in the garage, so Schumaker said their lights could have been the problem.

Schumaker also said a lot of people breed boa constrictors in Florida and having 45 of them is not a lot, especially during this season.

"With boas, you can have four-five large adults and one adult will put out 30-40 babies at once," he said. "We used to do a lot of shows. Education is the big thing, especially with snakes. A lot of people think snakes are bad, but they actually can be a good thing."

Despite losing the pets, the family members said they are just grateful that everyone made it out safely and no one was injured.

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