updated 3/22/2007 4:03:07 PM ET 2007-03-22T20:03:07

A kerosene heater that a dog breeder was using to keep puppies warm may be to blame for a fire that killed 167 dogs in a southwest Virginia barn, an official said.

Ninety puppies and 77 adult dogs perished in the blaze early Wednesday, county animal control officer James Belcher said.

Chihuahuas and Yorkshire terriers were among the purebred puppies that died.

“The first thing on our mind was getting the dogs out, but it was impossible,” said Philip Schmucker, 21, who started the breeding business last year with his father and brother.

The barn was used as a kennel and for equipment storage. Dogs that were outside the kennel survived.

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