A fire gutted the local Humane Society headquarters, killing dozens of animals including nearly all of the cats in the building, authorities said.

Up to 200 animals were in the facility, but it could take days to account for all the animals and tally the dead, Humane Society Executive Director Leona Sheddan said.

The early Saturday fire destroyed the main shelter building, valued at $1 million, which housed cats, puppies and exotic animals. Most dogs escaped serious injury because the kennels are in the back, but dozens of cats likely died, Sheddan said.

"With a great degree of certainty, one could say virtually the entire population of cats at the Humane Society perished," said Tom Francis, spokesman for the Jacksonville Fire and Rescue.

"Our protection of life policy extends to all living creatures," Francis said. "It's an emotional scene. When you have defenseless animals in danger, you see even the most seasoned veteran firefighter feel some melancholy."

The cause of the blaze remains under investigation. A few firefighters suffered minor injuries when the roof collapsed.