Nearly 100 cats perished early Tuesday morning in a fire at a San Jose, Calif., home that had been made into a cat sanctuary, the San Jose Mercury News reports. Carole Miller, the homeowner, had installed fencing closely around the back of the house to pen in the cats, and it trapped her in the burning home until firefighters could cut through it and rescue her, the San Jose Fire Department said.
According to Fire Capt. Reggie Williams, Miller, who is in her 70s, said she served as a volunteer cat rescuer in a local cat rescue program that involved trapping, caring for and neutering the animals for adoption or release.
"There were cats in every room of the house," Williams said.
Miller said she operates TNR (Trap/Neuter/Release) cat “colonies” in the South Bay and at Stanford.
“I’m just stunned,” she said. “I’m stunned at the fear and suffering of my animals ... They are my life ... This is my worst nightmare,” she told KTVU.
Officials say that Miller called 911 on July 16 at 1:43 a.m. She said was sleeping in the front room when her dog started barking and woke her up. She went to the back of the house and saw her bedroom was on fire.
"She had a smoke detector, but for some reason it didn't work,” Williams said.
A fire dispatcher instructed Miller to get out of the home, and she exited through a rear door but was trapped in a patio that she had enclosed with a metal netting to keep the rescued cats from escaping, the Mercury News reports.
Firefighters found the elderly woman in a fetal position with smoke and fire wafting above her. The crews had to use axes to cut through the fencing and then they pulled her to safety. Her dog also escaped.
According to the report, it took two dozen firefighters about one hour to put out the flames. Williams told KTVU that firefighters were hindered in battling the fire by more than 100 cats that were in the home.
“There were multiple, multiple animals we had to get over to fight the fire,” he said. “I’ve never witnessed this many animals in a single home ... There were more than 100 cats. “
They then removed the bodies of nearly 100 cats, most of which had died from smoke inhalation rather than direct contact with the fire, Williams said. The front yard of the home in the 1600 block of Polvadero Dr. was strewn with the cats that died.
The five or six cats that survived were placed in the custody of the city's animal services department, officials said.
The home suffered major damage to the rear and the fire had spread to the attic. The cause has yet to be determined, officials say.