Officials say at least 17 cats were killed in the blaze, though the shelter earlier said the number at 23

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17 Cats Killed, 26 Dogs Saved In Fire At Fla. Animal Rescue
Credit: Orange County sheriff's office/ twitter

More than a dozen cats were killed in a fire that tore through an animal shelter in central Florida this week.

Orange County Fire Rescue responded to the blaze just before 10:30 p.m. local time on Wednesday at the Pet Alliance of Greater Orlando on Conroy Road, according to WFTV. Lisa McDonald, a spokesperson for the department, reported the building was 50% engulfed in flames when first responders arrived. It is unclear what started the fire.

At least 17 cats were killed, according to authorities, though the Pet Alliance earlier said the total was 23. All 26 dogs at the shelter were saved, according to The Orlando Sentinal.

17 Cats Killed, 26 Dogs Saved In Fire At Fla. Animal Rescue
Credit: Orange County sheriff's office/ twitter

Neither the Orange County Fire Department nor the Pet Alliance of Greater Orlando immediately responded to PEOPLE's request for comment prior to publication.

"If you run a shelter, this is literally your worst nightmare — to see your building on fire and know that there are animals in there that you're charged to care for and you can't go in," Pet Alliance Executive Director Steve Bardy told reporters at the scene Wednesday night, per the Sentinal.

Many of the animals caught in the flames, Bardy said, were rescues from Hurricane Ida. The surviving animals will be transferred to the nonprofit's Sanford location. 

17 Cats Killed, 26 Dogs Saved In Fire At Fla. Animal Rescue
Credit: Orange County sheriff's office/ twitter

"It appears the fire started in the front building by the clinic, which made it more difficult for fire rescue to go into the adjacent cat room," an emotional Bardy told reporters.

Bardy thanked the firefighters for their rapid response. "I'm grateful that the firefighters have, you know, put their lives at risk to … help save as many as they could," he said, per the Sentinal. "I'm eternally grateful for that."You can donate to the Pet Alliance of Greater Orlando via their website.

Just last week, the Pet Alliance had announced that it would be temporarily closing the Orlando clinic this month while the organization hires a new full-time veterinarian, according to WFTV.