Firefighters in northern Utah got a slithering surprise when they responded to a routine call for a small kitchen fire last week and found a room full of dozens of exotic snakes, six of which were poisonous and deadly.
Once the fire was extinguished, firefighters doing a sweep of the rest of the house found the snakes, North Davis, Utah, Fire Chief Mark Becraft said.
"We always have a search team go in to clear the house and make sure there are no humans," Becraft said. "They came out with an all clear but said that there were numerous snakes caged in the house. ... They definitely didn't want to handle them."
Animal Control was called in, but soon handed the issue over to the Utah Division of Wildlife.
"I don't think a lot of people like snakes," Becraft said. "I was sure glad to hand it off to somebody else to deal with."
Among the snakes that were found were some of the most deadly, including five albino western diamondbacks and a Gaboon viper.
"The Gaboon viper is considered one of the most dangerous snakes in the world," said Brad Hunt of the Utah Division of Wildlife. "It has very long fangs and very potent venom."
The Gaboon Viper is indigenous to Africa, and anti-venom for the snake is not readily available in the United States.
Having venomous snakes is illegal in the state of Utah, and even native snakes must be registered and have permits. It is suspected that the owner, whose name has not been released but who officials believe is a snake professional or breeder, smuggled at least the Gaboon viper from out of state.
He was cited for possession of illegal animals, and Animal Control was in contact with an attorney to consider options for pressing any misdemeanor charges.
The snakes that he owned legally will be returned to him, officials said.
"The remaining 22 were [legal] snakes you can pick up at any pet store," Davis County Animal Services Director Clint Thacker said. "There's nothing in the ordinance that says you can only have so many snakes, so the legal ones were returned."
Thacker said the snakes were kept in "incredible condition" and in "immaculate facilities."
The confiscated rattlesnakes were given to Reptile Rescue, an educational rehabilitation center for snakes and reptiles. The Gaboon viper, however, remains in the possession of the Division of Wildlife while law enforcement continues its investigation.
"People need to be smart about what they're getting," Thacker said. "Just because it looks cool or it's pretty doesn't mean you can have it."