CHESTERFIELD COUNTY, Va. (WRIC) — Metro Richmond Zoo has begun the build-back process after a fire broke out late at night on Sunday, June 4, killing one meerkat and displacing nine other animals.
8News arrived on scene Monday, June 5 and met a one-month-old baby penguin, who is now named “Phoenix” after the baby animal literally “rose from the ashes.” He is one of nine animals that survived the fire at Metro Richmond Zoo’s animal hospital on Sunday evening.
“[Phoenix] was one of the ones I was worried the most about when I got here,” Jessica Gring, who worked with the zoo for fifteen years, said. “It is beyond your worst nightmare. It is.”
A variety of zoo animals — like birds, kangaroos and armadillos — made it out of the fiery building alive. They received oxygen treatment and extra support. However, one meerkat lost its life.
“It’s just — it’s such a pit in the middle of your stomach feeling,” Gring said. “Because you just are helpless.”
When the Chesterfield County Fire Department arrived on scene around 10 p.m., they found the zoo’s director, Jim Andelin, already at work rescuing animals trapped in the blaze.
“We heard an explosion and I looked out the window and saw that the building behind me was on fire,” Andelin reflected. “I told my son to call 911 and I hurried out the door and went out and started pulling some of the animals out.”
Officials said things could have been a lot worse if Andelin didn’t live so close by and if he hadn’t been so quick-thinking.
While investigators believe the fire was an accident, the damage was still extensive. The entire vet clinic, food storage and prep area and workshop space were destroyed.
Zoo staffers like Gring and Andelin are preparing for the task or rebuilding and restocking everything. They expressed gratitude to the community for their outpouring of support. Gring held Phoenix and added how grateful she is the vulnerable baby animal made it out safely.
“I just wanted to hold [Phoenix] and say, ‘hi,’ because I was just so blessed that he’s still here,” Gring said. “All of these things behind me can be replaced. Because they are that — they are things.”
The Chesterfield County Fire Department is continuing the investigation into the cause of the fire. They believe it began at the end of the maintenance building and it was an accident involving some form of electrical trouble. There are currently no signs of suspicious activity.