Chattanooga firefighters battled a two-alarm blaze at the Chattanooga Zoo in Warner Park last night. The fire started around 11:00 p.m. in a two-story building referred to as the Education Center, which is located between the gift shop and the public pool. Flames were breaking through the roof when the firefighters arrived on the scene. Employees with the zoo, including Executive Director Darde Long, informed the firefighters that about 20 small animals were still inside the building, including rabbits, parrots, prairie dogs, turtles and lizards.
Battalion Chief Winston Shields instructed some firefighters to use handheld hoselines to make an interior attack in the building, while others searched for the animals. The firefighters were able to save many of the animals, but Ms. Long said roughly eight of them perished from exposure to smoke and heat. That number could go up, depending on the condition of the animals that were saved. The building did not house any of the larger animals at the zoo.
Firefighters with 13 fire companies managed to get the blaze under control in roughly 40 minutes, containing most of the fire damage to the second floor on one end of the building. There was smoke and water damage to the rest of the building. The dollar loss was estimated at around $50,000 to the structure, which was actually a multi-purpose facility that had offices and a rehabilitation area for ill and injured animals. One firefighter injured her back and one of her knees on the scene and was transported by Hamilton County EMS to a local hospital, where she was treated and released.
Captain Lesley Morgan with the Fire Investigation Division said the cause of the fire appears to be accidental in nature, though what exactly sparked the blaze remains undetermined and under investigation. Chattanooga police and Chattanooga-Hamilton County Rescue provided valuable assistance on the scene.