Soldotna firefighters say more than a dozen animals were killed by a Sterling house fire Wednesday morning that apparently started while the owners were away.

According to Central Emergency Services spokesperson Brad Nelson, the two-story home was reported burning on the 38100 block of Barbara Street, after the homeowners had departed.

“They left around 8 o’clock,” Nelson said. “It was discovered about 10:30 by neighbors who were out working.”

Responding units arrived in roughly five minutes to find smoke rising from the structure, bringing the fire under control in 15 minutes and extinguishing it within half an hour. While an initial sweep of the building discovered nobody inside, crews soon found the dead pets.

“We had 11 puppies and two adult cats,” Nelson said. “They just had a fresh litter of boxer pups and lost all of them.”

Nelson says the animals’ deaths hit firefighters hard, especially the puppies.

“One of them we put in the back of an ambulance and tried working on it, giving it oxygen, but we lost it,” Nelson said.

While the fire caused an estimated $60,000 in damage, the home is not considered a total loss. Nelson says the homeowners’ insurers are covering their costs, and planning a deeper investigation of the fire’s cause after crews at the scene said it started in the kitchen.

“In this case, (there are) several possibilities in that whole kitchen area,” Nelson said.