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14 Animals Killed In Fire At Home Of Animal Sitting Service In Clifton, N.J.

CLIFTON, N.J. (CBSNewYork) -- A two-alarm fire tore through a home in Clifton Tuesday, killing 14 animals and sending a tall pillar of smoke and flame high into the sky.

The fire broke out at around 1 p.m. at the Mountain View Drive home that also serves as an animal sitting service.

The fire had torn a huge hole in the roof of the home, but as CBS 2's Hazel Sanchez reported, the pet sitting service may have been operating illegally.

Joan Maso's daughter Laura Kieffer ran the business out of the home, but the Clifton Health Department said that the family was not licensed to do so.

As towering flames shot through the roof of the home so went three decades of priceless memories and belongings.

"We lost our pets. And my daughter risked her life trying to save some of them. She got two dogs out," Maso said.

Extreme heat prevented Kieffer from reaching the animals trapped inside.

"When we got here the whole roof was raging on fire," said neighbor Justine Paitchell.

Fire At Clifton Animal Sitting Service
Fire tears through a home in Clifton that also serves as animal sitting service on Aug. 26, 2014. (credit: CBS 2)

As CBS 2's Elise Finch reported, the home is listed as one of three locations for a company called Your Family Pet Sitters, a business that advertises a full-time home environment for pets at reasonable rates.

"A call came in as heavy smoke with possible people inside the building," Clifton Fire Department Deputy Chief Michael Sauer said. "While en route, listening to the police frequency, police pulled on scene and reported that all occupants were out of the building, however there were several animals still inside."

At least two animals were rescued from the burning home unharmed, Finch reported. But neighbors said there were several more inside.

In all, 11 dogs and three cats were killed in the blaze, CBS 2's Hazel Sanchez reported.

"It's sad, it's sad. I would be sad too," said neighbor Rob Welsh. "That would be very, very tough and that's what the girl is freaking out about because she's got all these potential clients that she has and now we don't know how many dogs they were able to save."

"It's heart breaking, because lets face it, animals to some that's their children," said neighbor Joan Robertson. "Thank God the people got out, but you have to feel sorry too for the animals."

Clifton fire officials are investigating the cause of the fire that was so intense that three firefighters were treated for smoke inhalation and heat exhaustion. Crews were forced to retreat twice.

"The building was going to flashover at one point and that's when we pulled everybody out. And after a while the fire died down after an exterior attack. We went back inside and the roof started to collapse so we pulled everybody out again," Clifton Fire Department Deputy Chief Norman Tahan explained.

Fire investigators say the fire started at the rear of the house, but they have not determined the cause.

The house is a total loss that can be rebuilt, but as the family explained, the dogs and cats are irreplaceable.

"I slept with dogs. I sleep with my wife, and my child, and two dogs in the bed, and those aren't even my dogs, and I sleep with them because I love them," Tom Kieffer said.

Police said they won't release any information about the animals that died in the home until their owners are notified.

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