LAYTON — Burned out of their top-floor apartment, a woman and her daughter despaired to learn that their cats, Spike and Bugsy, got trapped inside.
“We thought both cats were dead,” said Pamala Chandler, 53, one of more than two dozen people uprooted July 22 when a gasoline-fueled fire heavily damaged a 24-unit building at the Layton Meadows complex, 540 W. 1415 North.
The three-alarm fire, described by Fire Chief Kevin Ward as one of Layton’s worst in recent memory, left people from at least 16 of the 24 units in need of housing help from the American Red Cross.
Some tenants in the most heavily damaged units lost everything.
Seven Layton police officers suffered smoke inhalation trying to evacuate residents, and at least five tenants suffered minor injuries, the fire department said.
Chandler was at a nearby convenience store, playing a game on her phone, when she heard and saw fire trucks and police cars rush by.
She waited a bit before continuing on home because of the emergency traffic congestion, but then as she neared her apartment complex, she saw that’s what was burning.
Chandler lost some important possessions in the fire, such as furniture built by her father and grandfather, a desk handed down in the family since 1885, and all family photos of her daughters, and her mother, who died a few years ago.
“It’s just stuff,” she said. “The most important thing is the cats.”
She and daughter Ryanna, 21, stayed with friends the night after the fire, mourning the loss of their felines.
Chandler’s oldest daughter, Kyrie, 25, drove from Tooele and stayed vigilant at the apartment building, hoping for some sign of the cats.
The next morning, a firefighter found Bugsy, a 3-year-old male, and Kyrie took her to Pamala.
“Kyrie stayed there, camped out, called PETA, and picked up Bugsy,” Pamala Chandler said. “She has just been my rock.”
Kyrie Chandler complained to People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals because the women said the fire department wasn’t doing enough to comb the ruins for missing cats in the days after the fire.
The fire happened on a Monday. In the following days, Pamala took up the vigil, hoping for evidence of Spike’s whereabouts.
“I had a feeling that he was up there,” she said. “I knew he was up there. I could hear him. He would answer me.”
Chandler said apartment security officers tried to run her off from the site, and a police officer advised her to leave as well.
But she and her daughters kept hanging around.
“I don’t understand why people don’t understand animals are people too,” Pamala said. “My cat was stuck up there for five days starving, afraid and possibly injured and nobody cared. It’s not just a cat, it’s a member of my family.”
She said it “took an act of Congress ... to get the fire department to come back.”
About noon Friday, a firefighter emerged from the Chandlers’ third-floor dwelling, cradling a bedraggled Spike.
“He’s doing incredibly well,” she said of Spike on Tuesday.
“I’m one of the lucky people,” she added, then told of other tenants who were injured or had no local support after the fire.
She said a couple from Arizona on the first floor with two small boys lost all their belongings and had nowhere to turn.
But Red Cross spokeswoman Kirsten Stuart in Ogden said the relief organization opened about 16 cases to help affected tenants with emergency housing, clothing and toiletries. Those in need also may receive long-term aid to help them get their bearings.
The other seven or so tenants had other help locally, she said.
Ward, the fire chief, said crews had many priorities at the apartment building, starting with gasoline that quickly spread the flames where the blaze started in a first-floor apartment.
The building, an older structure, had been retrofitted from electric to natural gas heating, which added to the fuel load and the rapid progress of the fire, Ward said.
Crews had to retreat from inside the building.
“Then once we could get the fire pretty well suppressed, we had to worry about the building’s structural stability,” Ward said.
He said firefighters rescued at least six cats from the building through the week.
The amount of water poured into the building “made a better environment for the survival of the cats,” Ward said.
He said PETA’s call had no influence “because we felt like we were already doing everything we could do on it.”
Ward praised the work done by multiple police and fire agencies in limiting the scope of the fire. The police officers who suffered smoke inhalation are doing well, he said.
“We are just very fortunate that no one was seriously injured or killed,” he said.
Pamala Chandler said he was glad to hear that the man in the unit where the fire started has been criminally charged.
Angel David Colebrook, 20, was jailed on misdemeanor charges of reckless burn and reckless endangerment.
She said someone had been barbecuing in their kitchen on the first floor and neighbors had been complaining.
“I’m kind of angry that he had not been evicted, which is beyond my comprehension,” she said.