Cats die in Fairfax house fire

By Martin Weil
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, November 29, 2009

As many as several dozen cats died Saturday in a smoky, smoldering fire at a house in Fairfax County, a county fire department spokesman said.

According to neighbors and fire spokesman Dan Schmidt, the couple living at the house took in and rehabilitated cats as part of a rescue operation.

The couple, who were not named, were reportedly away on vacation when the fire was discovered at their house in a quiet neighborhood in the Clifton/Centreville area.

"They're very nice people," said a neighbor on South Springs Drive. "They are going to be devastated."

Schmidt said a pet sitter went to the house in the 13900 block shortly after 3 p.m. to check on the cats and several birds also believed to be in the house.

The sitter opened the door and was met by thick, heavy smoke, Schmidt said. Firefighters were summoned immediately.

They arrived to find that the fire had extinguished itself, Schmidt said.

The fire extended from the first floor to the ceiling of the second, and to the basement as well, causing about $75,000 in damage, he said.

The cause of the blaze has not been determined.

There were "several dozen" cats in the house, Schmidt said, and most died. Several caged birds also died, he said.

Firefighters searched the two-story brick-front colonial, peering into nooks and crannies and furniture upholstery to search for cats that had tried to hide, Schmidt said.

Eight cats were rescued, he said.

Neighbors spoke highly of the couple who lived in the house and emphasized that they worked with an organized group trying to find homes for stray and abandoned cats.

"They are very, very nice people" who provide "very loving care for the animals," said neighbor Lynn Foster.

"I think everybody likes them and likes the work they do," Foster said. "It's very sad."

The precise number of cats involved was not immediately clear.

Schmidt said there were dozens of cats, but neighbors indicated that they had not seen that many.

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