The woman was sleeping at her home on South Buena Vista Avenue near Scott Street in San Jose at about 5:30 a.m. when she was shaken from her slumber by her agitated cat, Capt. Rob Brown said.
"The cat started crawling on her face to wake her up," Brown said.
The woman came to, saw that her home was full of smoke and managed to get out.
"Apparently her cat saved her life," Brown said.
The cat got out, too, but was missing as of 8 a.m.
The woman suffered from smoke inhalation but did not need to be transported to a hospital, he said.
Firefighters were called to the home at 5:37 a.m. When the first crew arrived, they found smoke coming out the front of the one-story house, Brown said.
They were initially told that a resident was trapped inside and began a rescue operation, but later learned the woman had gotten out on her own, Brown said.
Firefighters controlled the blaze shortly before 6:30 a.m. It caused an estimated $30,000 in damage to the home and its contents, he said.
Brown said it appears the one-alarm fire started in a living room area, but the cause is not yet clear.
The home was equipped with smoke detectors, but they weren't working and the fire department is investigating why.
Brown used the opportunity to remind residents to make sure their smoke detectors are operational.
"You've always got to make sure they have batteries," he said.