msnbc.com staff and news service reports
updated 1/1/2011 6:33:37 PM ET 2011-01-01T23:33:37

More than 60 cats perished in an early morning blaze inside a California no-kill shelter that was built to save them, The Merced Sun-Star reported. 

Merced County fire officials say an electrical fire raced through the Last Hope Cat Kingdom in Atwater about 1 a.m. Friday, spreading thick smoke through the 2,500-square-foot building.

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Firefighters rescued about 200 cats from the no-kill animal shelter, but dozens of others died of smoke inhalation, according to Merced County Fire Department spokesman Jose Quintana, The Los Angeles Times reported.

Dottie Henry, a volunteer at the shelter, told the Merced Sun-Star that she was devastated by the news.

"It's really hard because we know all the animals," Henry told the Merced Sun-Star. "A lot of them were older cats that have been here for a long time."

Copyright 2011 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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