A fire killed 16 dogs, including puppies, Wednesday in a suburban breeder's backyard kennel, which an inspector later said was illegal.

Police said eight of the dogs were puppies under 5 months old.

Elmsford Fire Chief Richard Hoke said the dogs died in their cages and probably were killed by breathing smoke rather than by burns. He said no dogs survived the morning blaze in Greenburgh, about 25 miles north of Manhattan.

"It was not a difficult fire but it was fully involved when we got there and the dogs had no chance," Hoke said. He said the fire destroyed the 20-by-20-foot shed behind a home.

Greenburgh police Lt. Brian Joseph Ryan identified the owner as Ross Taylor, 46, whom he said raises large Italian mastiffs of a breed known as the Cane Corso. It was not immediately known if all the dead dogs were that breed, but Hoke said they all seemed to be the same breed.

Greenburgh Building Inspector John Lucido said the kennel violated town codes because only three grown dogs are permitted per household and because a kennel business is illegal in Taylor's neighborhood.

He said Taylor was warned about a similar violation in 2006, "but he brought the number of dogs down to be in compliance."

"I guess they came back between then and now," Lucido said. He added that his department had received no complaints since 2006.

A call to Taylor's home was answered by a man who declined to comment.

Cane Corso puppies often sell for more than $1,000. Taylor's website, masterk9rus.com, did not list prices but invited PayPal deposits on several dogs with names including Sparks, Hanibal and Movado.

"We aim to improve the Cane Corso breed," the website says. "Our dogs are family raised and bred for temperament, health, show and working capability."

Ryan said eight of the dead dogs were 5 months to 7 years old, the rest younger.

He said a preliminary report from detectives and fire marshals suggested the cause of the fire may have been a heat lamp or space heater, but the investigation continued.

Officials said they did not know if heaters were being used because of an electricity outage. A weekend snowstorm cut off power to many customers in the area.

No charges had been filed, Ryan said.

Ernest Lungaro, director of humane law enforcement for the Westchester County Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, said the SPCA took two of the dogs for necropsies to determine the cause of death. He said Taylor was cooperating with the agency's investigation into whether cruelty laws had been broken.

Ryan said the fire was reported to Greenburgh police just before 7 a.m. The Elmsford Fire Department was then called, although the fire was just outside Elmsford, in an unincorporated area of Greenburgh.