MANSFIELD -- Firefighters responded to a report of smoke and flames at an animal shelter in north-central Ohio.

Police Dispatcher Mark Huckleberry says an employee at the Stop The Overpopulation of Pets shelter at 1152 Lexington Ave called authorities just before 6:30 p.m. Friday to report a fire in the basement.

The facility offers a safe place for injured or homeless cats.

According to The Mansfield News Journal, Stop has as many as 50 cats. It's unclear if that many were in the building at the time of the fire.

Mansfield Fire Assistant Chief Mark Sieving said it took firefighters about 10 minutes to put out the fire.

He said crews managed to rescue nearly all of the cats, but three died and eight are unaccounted for. Sieving believes the three cats died of smoke inhalation.

The Mansfield News Journal said firefighters, employees, neighbors, and even people passing by pulled together in the frigid temperatures to save the animals.

Sieving said extra trucks were brought in to rotate the firefighters and give them a break from the cold.

The cats were taken to a nearby veterinary hospital.

The cause of the fire remains under investigation.

In 25 years, Stop The Overpopulation of Pets helped find more than 1,000 needy cats a safe home.

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