TURNER — A fire Monday at Varney’s Labs started somewhere in the back of a garage at about 10 p.m., and Brad Varney’s grandchildren came running across the street.

“They came running in, saying, ‘What do we do? What do we do?’ ” Varney said Thursday. “I said, ‘Save the dogs!””

The family has been in the business of breeding Labrador retrievers at their Fish Street home for 20 years. Varney said he’s bred more than 2,000 puppies in that time.

The fire devastated the breeders, although the family managed to get 30 of the 33 yellow, black and chocolate Labs out of the garage and into the house.

Three puppies died in the fire.

“We don’t know, maybe they were gone already before we had a chance to save them,” wife Paula Varney said.

Firefighters later pulled a 2½-year-old female from the fire. She had singed whiskers, Varney said, but she’ll be OK.

Only one wall of the Varneys’ garage still stands, the side closest to the house. The rest is gone — the kennels inside that were linked to dog doors around the yard, all of Varney’s tools and a truck were destroyed in the fire.

All of the adults dogs, the breeding animals that lived in the garage, made it out safely.

“They went out on their own through the dog doors,” Varney said. “They knew something was up. If they know what’s going on, they’ll come right outside.”

The garage was also home to a litter of pups. Varney’s grandson, 18-year-old Colby, had to crawl under an A-frame roof in place to protect the dogs from falling snow to rescue most of them.

“A whole bunch of them came out through the dog door but were just standing there, and Colby just started handing them off to his brother,” Varney said. “Then, he had to go through the dog door and the rest were gathered up right there, just inside. He said, ‘Grandpa, I can’t see a thing in here, from the smoke.'”

The three that died were about 8 weeks old, part of the oldest litter at Varney’s Labs. Those pups were all weaned and sold and were scheduled to start moving to their new homes this week. One of the pups that died in Monday’s fire was meant to go to a new home. Varney planned to keep the other two.

Neighbors and friends of the business have stepped forward magnificently, Paula said. All but seven of the adults have gone to stay with friends until a new barn can be built. The rest are nursing mothers, ready to give birth or the Varneys’ own pets.

“Someone brought over a bunch of dog food, and Poland Spring donated an entire pallet of bottled water,” he said. “The power for our well went through the barn, so we didn’t have any water, either.”

Varney said he didn’t know what caused the fire. He originally suspected the culprit was the wood stove in the middle of the building.

“But if you look at it, it looks like it started near the back of the garage,” he said. “So, we don’t know what happened.”

Three days later, and the house is all wags and whines.

The youngest litter, a group of black, yellow and chocolate 4-week-olds are keeping their mother, Tara, busy in an upstairs back room. Two more rooms downstairs are full of pups, three more litters between 6 and 8 weeks old stumbling around, biting each other.

Varney said he’ll rebuild his garage. Wife Paula said he’s already started designing it.

“He was working on it today,” she said. “He’s got some changes in mind.”

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