A Santa Rosa couple was rudely awakened early Friday by a fire in their West Eighth Street home that forced them from their residence of some 40 years, at least temporarily, fire officials said.

The fire likely already had been burning for some hours in the attic before enough smoke accumulated in the house to trigger smoke alarms shortly before 4 a.m., Santa Rosa Fire Battalion Chief Jack Piccinini said.

Helen and Raymond Miller called 911 and safely escaped the fire with their cats, he said.

An electrical short is believed to have ignited the fire in their home near Simpson Street, spreading through cellulose insulation and wooden structures, he said.

"We could tell it had been burning for a long, long time due to how much the structural members had literally burned through in some areas. But it went undetected," Piccinini said.

The attic was engulfed by the time fire crews arrived, and the roof will have to be torn off. But firefighters salvaged much of the contents and interior, Piccinini said. Damage was estimated at $55,000.

The Millers have family to stay with in the area while their home is being repaired, he said.