LANCASTER – The fire that destroyed an east Lancaster home and killed several cats late Tuesday night appears to have started accidentally, authorities said Wednesday.
“It appears electrical and it appears to have started between the garage and the structure,” said Inspector Tony Akins with the Los Angeles County Fire Department.
Firefighters received the call around 11:30 p.m. and arrived to heavy smoke and flames coming from a home in the 300 Block of Lingard Street, Akins said.
The flames were knocked down about 90 minutes later, and firefighters managed to rescue several cats from the home, Akins said. Unfortunately, they were not able to save them all.
“I lost 10 cats last night,” homeowner Ann Brooks said Wednesday, choking back tears. Brooks said she was at a house down the street when one of her neighbors alerted her to the fire.
At one point, Brooks had to be handcuffed to stop her from running into the home to save her cats. She said she told firefighters where the cats were, and compassionate firefighters managed to rescue six of her cats and three kittens.
“They put my towels in water and wrapped it around them, God bless them. The kittens are just two weeks old, they just got their eyes open,” Brooks said, adding that one cat died in her arms shortly after the rescue.
“I was trying to save her, my tiny princess. I tried giving her mouth-to-mouth myself, and then they gave me an oxygen thing, and I kept at it for about a half hour. But she succumbed,” Brooks said.
Neighbors said Brooks was known for taking in and feeding stray cats in the neighborhood.
“She was like the Pied Piper for cats,” said a woman who did not give her name. Another neighbor said animal control officers in “hazmat gear” had descended on the home a few months back and removed dozens of cats.
Brooks said she had been “going back and forth” with the city’s code enforcement team for about a year and had been working on keeping her grass green, repairing a hole in her roof and renewing her Waste Management contract. She said, despite her efforts, the city declared her home uninhabitable in late October.
“They landed on my doorstep with gas masks and picture taking and all kinds of stuff,” Brooks said. “At first, they wouldn’t let me in my own house. I had to sign all kinds of things.”
Brooks said she surrendered about 40 cats to animal control and vacated her home in October, as required. Since then, she had been cleaning up and repairing her home during the day, and staying in a back bedroom at a neighbor’s house at night, Brooks said.
Brooks said she still continued to open her home and her heart to cats.
“It has to do with people that are moving out and leaving their pets, and then they land at my place and they all have stories. They need help,” Brooks said. “A shelter that has 75% kill rate is not my idea of help.”
Brooks said she is working with her insurance company to see what can be done for the home, where she has lived since 1996. She said her husband passed away in 2004, and her two adult children reside outside the Antelope Valley.
“I just turned 70, and I’m alone here, with just my pets,” she said.
Brooks said she does not require assistance from the American Red Cross or donations from the community.
“Just pray,” Brooks said. “Materials things are just that, but I lost a home for my cats.”