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10 exotic animals killed in Thanksgiving Day fire at northern Ohio wildlife park

African Safari Wildlife Park in Port Clinton said in a statement it was "devastated" by the loss of animals in the blaze. No staff or guests were hurt.
/ Source: NBC News

Ten animals died in a fire Thursday night at a wildlife park in northern Ohio, the park's owner said.

Holly Hunt, the owner of African Safari Wildlife Park in Port Clinton, in Ottawa County along Lake Erie, said three bongos, three giraffes, three red river hogs and a springbok were killed in the fire in a barn used for overnight care and security. Bongos and springboks are species of antelope.

A zebra that was housed in an overhang outside the barn was saved, said Hunt, but all of the park's 300 others animals, including deer, bison, elk, llamas, giraffes and alpacas, were safe. The park was closed for the Thanksgiving holiday, and no human injuries were reported.

A giraffe widely seen fleeing the fire on social media hadn't been in the barn, Hunt said. It was freed to escape the flames and ran into a pond, from which animal keepers and doctors were able to direct it to safety, she said.

"It's just gut-wrenching that this should happen," she said. "Our team works so hard every day to care for these animals."

Rick Ramos, a safety officer for the Port Clinton Fire Department, said that the fire was reported at 6:18 p.m. and that the barn was already fully engulfed when crews arrived about five minutes later.

The fire was still burning late Thursday but was under control, he said. No cause had been determined, he said. Several fire departments remained on the scene late in the evening, and investigators from the state fire marshal's office were scheduled to arrive in the morning.

Danbury Township police Officer Carolyn DeMore, one of the first responders on the scene, said that after she arrived, she heard two explosions from inside the barn. Ramos said the explosions likely were caused by propane tanks stored in the barn.

Hunt said that she had owned the park, which opened in 1969, since 1974.

"We are devastated by this loss of the animals we care for every day," she said, appearing to choke back tears. "The team is just devastated."