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Woman dies after trying to save pets from Fredericksburg house fire

66-year-old Phyllis Mills helped rescue two people from the home before going back inside, firefighters said.

FREDERICKSBURG, Va. — A woman is dead after she went back into her burning home to try to save her pets and is posthumously being hailed as a hero for pulling two relatives to safety. 

Spotsylvania Fire, Rescue, & Emergency Management is calling 66-year-old Phyllis Mills a hero for pulling her husband and sister out of a burning home. Mills then went back into the burning house trying to save dogs and cats and died, the rescue agency said Monday afternoon.

Crews with Spotsylvania County Fire and Rescue Services were called to a report of a house fire with a person trapped in the 10100 block of Jim Morris Road in Fredericksburg Sunday morning.

Firefighters arrived at the home around 8 a.m. to find flames and smoke coming from the front of the house. Responding crews worked quickly to get the fire under control and searched for the trapped person. 

A preliminary investigation found that the home was occupied by three people at the time of the fire. Rescuers said Mills, who discovered the fire, was able to get her elderly sister and her husband out of the home, before going back inside to retrieve several pets, according to firefighters. 

Investigators said when she went back inside the home Mills was apparently overcome by the smoke and was not able to make it back out to safety.

The two people who made it out were taken to the hospital for smoke inhalation and are expected to be OK.

"I tell my kids, if this place ever catches on fire, you gotta stay out," said neighbor Dan Longo. "Because that smoke, once it gets a hold of you, you think, 'I can probably get in there and get out,' but yeah."

Firefighters are still working to determine the cause of the fire.

"We ask everyone to never re-enter a building on fire to save pets or belongings, urging everyone to get out and stay out, in the event of a fire," firefighters said in a press release. 

"This is actually the second fatality that we’ve had from a fire in Spotsylvania County in the past month where someone made it outside of the house and then re-entered," said fire chief Jay Cullinan. "These days, fires burn a lot quicker. The materials inside are made up of plastics and so forth. Really, once a fire starts inside your home, you have about three minutes to get out."

Chief Cullinan added several cats and four chihuahua dogs survived the fire. One additional chihuahua died from fire-related injuries.

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