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SIX cats, including two kittens, were killed when fire ripped though a home in Leigh, leaving a family homeless.

The fire, dubbed by firefighters as the most damaging to hit the area this year, devastated the semi-detached home in Southwood Gardens.

Firefighters in four engines rushed to the property at about 2.30pm to find the ground floor completely alight and the first floor also 50 per cent alight.

Flames were so fierce they had burnt through some of the first floor and stairs, preventing firefighters from reaching some of the building, with one reporting the heat was so great it even melted his visor.

The family, consisting of a mum and her two children, were out at the time so fire crews attempted to rescue the 11 cats living there, but sadly could not save them all.

Karl Smith, a sub officer with the fire service, said: “The cats were throughout the house and the crews worked exceptionally well to find them, but although five cats were saved, sadly six were deceased, including two kittens.

“We revived two of them using oxygen and heart massage and our hearts go out to the young lady whose lost those cats and her home.”

Leading fire fighter Steve Wright from Southend fire station, added: “We couldn’t get to the first floor because the part of the ceiling fell through. The stairs were virtually burnt through too.

“The fire started downstairs, but it really rapidly spread through the building. There was a huge amount of fire damage.

“There were eight firefighters wearing breathing apparatus to extinguish the blaze. It was so severe that we thought next door would be affected. Luckily we stopped that in time and thankfully it didn’t get into the roof.”

The fire took an hour to put out, but the home will be uninhabitable for some time due to the extensive fire and smoke damage.

Mr Wright added: “Because of the heat and not being able to get to get to some of the rooms it was very difficult.

“It’s a while since we have had such a well developed fire. I haven’t seen damage to that extent all year because it had really spread throughout the house.”

A joint investigation by the fire service and police will be carried out to establish the cause of the blaze.