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Trial by fire

January 15, 2000

Robert Blechl

SOUTH SAN FERNANDO DISTRICT -- Daniel Payne credits his guinea pigs

for the fact that he's still alive.

Payne, 63, who received minor burns and lost more than 30 pets in a

house fire Tuesday night, said he found his living room ablaze after

being awakened by the sound of the screaming guinea pigs.

"They woke me up and saved me," Payne said.

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Sadly, the fire killed Payne's 10 guinea pigs, along with more than 20

cats, a pit bull and a Chihuahua.

As Payne recovered from second-degree burns to his shoulders and chest

Friday, city officials said they have not decided if charges of running

an illegal kennel will be brought against the Burbank man. City laws

require any resident with more than three cats or dogs to have a kennel

license.

Burbank Fire Capt. Bob Reinhardt said the fire started about 8:22 p.m.

Tuesday when a match or cigarette ignited a living room couch at Payne's

rented home at 256 W. Valencia Ave.

Payne, who does not know how many animals were living in the house,

said he has been able to find only one survivor of the fire, his Siamese

cat, Sumac. Other cats may have escaped, he said, but he has yet to find

them.

Except for the guinea pigs who were in a cage by the couch, Reinhardt

said the animals died from smoke inhalation. The house was virtually

destroyed, with damage estimated at $120,000, he said.

In hindsight, Payne acknowledged that keeping so many pets wasn't a

good idea. Most of the cats were strays and Payne said he has never been

able to turn his back on homeless animals of any kind.

"Any stray cat I see I try to save," Payne said. "If you take them to

the animal shelter and no one wants them, they only keep them for a few

weeks before they put them to sleep."

Since 1988, Payne said he has kept no less than 15 cats.

Burbank Animal Shelter Superintendent Fred DeLange said Burbank allows

residents to keep only three domestic animals, which are classified as

dogs and cats. Any more, DeLange said, and the person must acquire a

kennel license.

"It really hits me personally because if the fellow wouldn't have had

that accumulation of pets in there, this wouldn't have happened," DeLange

said. "But he elected to have that many and look at how many were killed.

I'm not real happy with that. If you really stop and think about it

that's a lot of cats in one house"

Payne acknowledged the excess, but said that his home kept them from

the perils of the streets and of the animal shelter. He said his cats'

living conditions were humane.

"It's not as if my place was a dump. I had about 10 cat boxes all over," Payne said. "It was clean and nice."

Reinhardt concurred.

"The house wasn't a pack rat-type house. (Payne) just takes in stray

cats of all varieties and sizes," he said. "He loves these animals and

takes care of them. It's a tragedy that it burned."

Reinhardt said the magnitude of the loss struck him when he stepped

into the charred remains of Payne's house.

"Cats were lying here, there and everywhere. You could see where they

were trying to get away from the smoke and the heat," Reinhardt said.

"They crammed themselves into corners, under furniture and behind doors."

On Thursday, Payne visited Sumac, who is recovering from smoke

inhalation at Magnolia Veterinary Clinic. Payne said he would stick to

the city limit of three cats in the future.

Before his daughter gave him one as a gift 13 years ago, Payne said he

wasn't really a cat person.

"I didn't think they were very affectionate, but I found out

differently," he said.

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