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Pasco woman jailed after fighting to save cat from house fire she started

WESLEY CHAPEL —Deana Melendez always hated the rooster.

It was an oil painting her husband did years ago. About 4 a.m. Tuesday Mrs. Melendez decided to rid herself of it for good and took the rooster painting off the wall, pitched it in her fireplace and lit it on fire, according to her husband, Rubely Melendez, who also said his wife had been drinking heavily when she chose this plan.

"When she drinks, she does crazy things," said Melendez, 50, as he stood hours later in front of what remained of his smoldering shell of a home.

Mrs. Melendez, 51, later told investigators she forgot to open the chimney flue when she ignited her husband's painting.

Soon the entire home was streaming with black smoke. Somehow, the fire leaped from the fireplace and into the house. The walls and roof blazed.

The occupants inside at 1108 Crimson Clover Lane at the time were Mrs. Melendez, her 21-year-old son, Kiyon, and their pets: Terry and Ely, Yorkshire terrier puppies; Franky, a Maltese; Cho Cho the chihuahua; birds Luis and Sadan; and a cat named Kitty. Rubely Melendez was not at home. He went to a hotel Monday, he said, because his wife was drinking and he didn't like it.

Mrs. Melendez and her son saved all of the animals but he couldn't find Kitty. Mrs. Melendez refused to leave the Meadow Pointe house without her cat, even with the roof threatening to collapse, which it later did.

"F--k you," she repeatedly told a firefighter who told her to leave the home, according to a report. "I'm looking for my cat."

She was profane and combative, and when a firefighter picked her up to carry her out of the burning building she hit him in the head and kicked him in the knee, the report says.

"My cat! My cat!" she screamed, the report states. She wouldn't stop struggling and attempting to rush back in the house. As she was being handcuffed in an attempt to restrain her, she punched a deputy in the face, the report states.

Mrs. Melendez was arrested and charged with battery on a law enforcement officer and battery on a firefighter.

A firefighter found Kitty a few hours later, clawing at the screen on the lanai, trying to get out, blackened with soot, whiskers burned to nubs, but alive and meowing. Firefighters gave Kitty oxygen. Neighbor Laura Kulikowski gave the cat syringes of water, soothed it with wet towels and took it to her veterinarian as soon as the office opened.

She hopes Kitty will survive. "I thought the cat looked good," said Kulikowski, 37, who is taking care of the Melendezes' dogs and birds until the family can find another home.

The house is now a charred frame with no roof. Melendez, who is from Puerto Rico, said he is a jeweler who kept most of his money in cash inside the home. All of that is gone.

He is angry his wife was arrested for trying to save Kitty.

"We love animals," he said. "I believe anybody would do the same thing."

This is Mrs. Melendez's first arrest in Florida, according to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement. Pasco County sheriff's spokesman Kevin Doll said deputies were sent to the Melendez home about 11:30 p.m. Monday — several hours before the fire — on a domestic dispute call. Doll would not release many details of the incident. He did say someone at the residence had a gun and wanted the deputy to take possession of it, so the gun was handed over voluntarily.

The fire was ruled an accident.

"Her intent wasn't to burn her house down," said Pasco Fire Marshal Donald Campbell.

Campbell said it is always a bad idea to burn anything other than wood in fireplaces.

Mrs. Melendez refused an interview request Tuesday from the Times. During the evening, she remained in the Pasco jail in lieu of $10,000 bail.

"I lose everything," Melendez said as he stared into the ruins of his home and wondered where he would go next.

Times researcher Caryn Baird and Times staff writer Danny Valentine contributed to this story. Erin Sullivan can be reached at esullivan@sptimes.com or (727) 869-6229.

Pasco woman jailed after fighting to save cat from house fire she started 06/21/11 [Last modified: Tuesday, June 21, 2011 8:49pm]
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