Mason, SC- By Charles Shumaker, The Charleston Gazette

An explosion and fire at the Mason County Animal Shelter Tuesday afternoon injured at least one person, killed about two dozen dogs and cats and left dozens of other animals running loose after they were rescued from their cages.

More than 20 cats and at least two dogs were killed in the fire, Mason County Commissioner Rick Handley said.

The fire started a little before 2:30 p.m. when a man repairing a furnace went to light the pilot and there was an explosion, according to a Mason County Emergency Services dispatcher, who would not give his name.

The dispatcher said the repairman suffered second- and third-degree burns and was transported by HealthNet helicopter to Cabell-Huntington Hospital. The injured man’s name and condition were not immediately available.

Workers from Elite Mechanical in Point Pleasant were working on the gas furnace when it exploded, Handley said. At least one other person was also injured but not transported, according to a Mason County dispatcher.

Mason County Animal Shelter Director Danielle Mayes and worker Derrick Handley were inside with the Elite workers and a television news crew from WOWK-TV at the time of the explosion.

Derrick Handley and WOWK-TV cameraman Ben Miles were able to rescue many of the animals from their cages, according to Rick Handley, who is Derrick Handley’s uncle. WOWK assignment editor and reporter Nicky Walters suffered minor burns during the explosion.

The Mason County Animal Welfare League’s Web site includes requests for donations. Among the needs listed before Tuesday’s fire was a new heating and cooling system.