A man died Wednesday night after a fire erupted in the garage of a Herndon home and sent more than three dozen Persian cats scampering around the property and across the neighborhood, Fairfax County fire officials said.
Neighbors described a bizarre scene in which rescue crews were attempting to herd the felines even as firefighters were dousing the blaze in the 12800 block of Willow Glen Court. Flames shot several stories into the air.
“The garage went up. The fire caught on some flammable material. It was pretty significant,” neighbor Rich Daum said. “The flames were probably 30 feet in the air or more.”
County officials said they are waiting for the medical examiner to perform an autopsy before they officially identify the man who died.
Firefighters responded to the scene at about 11 p.m. and found the two-car garage engulfed in flames. Neighbors said they heard explosions, which fire officials said were caused by propane tanks and aerosol cans stored in the garage.
A woman at the house called 911 and told responders that her husband was in the garage. Fire officials said the man was working on something there when the fire started.
The woman escaped unharmed.
The couple owned 37 cats. Daum said he saw rescue crews chasing cats around the yard, and other rescuers emerged from the home clutching felines. Fire officials said that they did not know why the couple had so many cats but said that the animals were properly cared for.
Firefighters knocked down the blaze after about 10 minutes and discovered the man’s badly burned body inside the garage, which was destroyed. Flames also blackened the attic and roof, causing about $175,000 worth of damage.
Fire officials said none of the cats were injured, but 12 are missing. The cause of the fire remains under investigation, but officials said they have no reason to suspect foul play. The cats are staying at a shelter temporarily.
“They were afraid and scared,” said Dan Schmidt, a county fire spokesman.