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10 animals dead in blaze at Ohio wildlife park

The Detroit News

Authorities are working to determine what caused a fire on Thanksgiving that left 10 animals dead at the African Safari Wildlife Park in northern Ohio.

Three giraffes, three red river hogs, three bongos and a springbok were housed inside a wood-framed barn with sheet metal siding that was built in the early 1980s and "not equipped with a fire suppression system," officials said in a statement posted Friday on a Facebook page for the park.

A giraffe runs in a fire Thursday at the African Safari Wildlife Park in Port Clinton, Ohio.

The fire was discovered about 6:15 p.m. Thursday at the estimated 100-acre site in Port Clinton, Ohio, about 100 miles southeast of Metro Detroit, according to the post.

“We’re so grateful to the community and first responders who are helping us through this terrible event. Thousands of people have reached out with condolences and offers of support,” said Holly Hunt, co-owner of the wildlife park.

“Despite being so saddened by losing 10 animals we loved, our team is here caring for the more than 400 other animals living in the park. Thankfully they are all safe. We are providing grief counseling to our team members, who are heartbroken by the loss."

The barn was destroyed and firefighters were on site through early Friday, park officials said in a statement.

The animals that died ranged in age from 1 1/2 years to 15 years old.

Three of them, a giraffe named Beltre and two Red River hog sisters named RJ and Priscilla, arrived at the park this week.

Hunt said a zebra in a habitat attached to the burned structure as well as four others in an adjacent enclosure appear in good health.

"They are under the care of our veterinarians, who were also at the park throughout the night as we brought the animals back inside,” Hunt said. “We cannot express how appreciative we are to the team members, the firefighters and police officers who were here helping manage this crisis.”

The barn was destroyed and firefighters were on site through early Friday, park officials said in a statement.

In a press conference Friday, Frank Reitmeier, an investigator with the state of Ohio fire marshal’s office, told reporters that authorities have not yet determined the precise area of origin or cause of the fire.

"It may take several weeks before we come up with a definitive answer or conclusion," he was recorded as saying.

Reitmeier added "we have nothing that would make us think it’s a criminal act at this point" and authorities are investigating whether a power outage Wednesday in the region played a role in the blaze.

Meanwhile, the park was slated to close for the 2019 season, its 51st, on Sunday, according to the website. Due to the fire, "African Safari Wildlife Park will be closed this weekend ... and for the winter season," officials wrote in a Facebook post Friday. "With your care and support, we will recover from this crisis and look forward to welcoming visitors back to the Wildlife Park again in early Spring, 2020."

Donations are being sought online.