Ten to 12 dogs in a Freeport garage apparently died yesterday in a residential fire being investigated by several agencies, authorities said.

The blaze started in a detached one-car garage at the rear of 101 Hillside Ave. about 2 p.m., said Ray Maguire, executive director of the Freeport Fire Department.

When about 100 firefighters began arriving, the garage was beyond saving, he said.

"It was a ball of fire, that's what the garage looked like," Maguire said.

Two dogs that were outside the garage when firefighters arrived were handed to town animal control officers, he said.

Afterward, he said, firefighters going through the ruins of the garage noticed the bodies of pit bulls or pit bull mixes -- some puppies, other adults.

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"It's hard to see," Maguire said.

Some in the yard were driven to tears, and the property was being treated as a crime scene, he said.

Why an "inordinate amount of dogs" was in the garage is being investigated by the county fire marshal's office; Nassau County police; Freeport police, building and fire officials; and Hempstead Town, Maguire said. The Nassau district attorney's office is also on the case.

Fernando Cruz, 38, who property records list as the co-owner, said he lives in Texas now and does not know anything about the dogs.

"The house is supposed to be empty," he said in a telephone interview. "Nobody is supposed to be living there."

Authorities want to know if anyone was living there and if it was a dog breeding or dog fighting operation.

It was not clear if the dogs were kept in cages or roamed freely in the garage, Maguire said. The fire was so intense that metal cages may have melted, he said.

The blaze was extinguished about 3 p.m., with standby help from Baldwin, Oceanside and Point Lookout fire departments and Bellmore-Merrick ambulance, Maguire said.

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James Hickman, head of fire investigations at the fire marshal's office, said the blaze does not appear to be suspicious. Maguire said flames also burned part of a shed next to the garage.