PORT CLINTON, Ohio —

Donations are currently being accepted at: https://bit.ly/2Y3Tfky

2 p.m. update: 

"Devastating. The animals are part of our family. Our staff is our family." Holly Hunt, co-owner of African Safari Wildlife Park, listed the names of the animals who perished in the devastating Thanksgiving barn fire during an afternoon news conference on Friday. Among the 10 that were killed three giraffes: Quinn, a 1 1/2-year-old giraffe who was a resident of the park since June 2019. Beltre, a 2 1/2-year-old giraffe who arrived just this week and Waylon.

The loss of life is clearly devastating for Hunt and the African Safari Wildlife Park community, for whom grief counseling is being made available. 

"Recovery is beginning from this devastating event. Our team members are here caring for each other and the animals," Hunt said. "Our community has been incredibly supportive in reaching out to us.  This fire killed 10 animals. The staff today are working to care for the animals frightened by the fire and are caring for each other. We are so grateful for our community and our first responders to help us through this terrible event."

The fire on Thanksgiving killed three giraffes, three Red River hogs, three bongo (forest antelope) and one springbok. In addition to Waylon, Quinn and Beltre, Hunt identified the other animals who died. 

There were the three Red River hogs which included two females, RJ and Priscilla, who were sisters, and a 9-year-old male named Merlin, a resident since 2012. The 7-year-old sisters just arrived at the park this week and were to join Merlin in the new Red River hog exhibit constructed this year. She also described a 9-year-old springbok named Chip, who lived at African Safari for seven years; a 10-year-old bongo named Diesel, who was a resident since 2010; a 5-year-old female bongo named Binti, who staff hoped would have a baby in the spring; and the bongo Tank, a 15-year-old animal who had been at the park since 2016 described as a "staff favorite" who "always greeted keepers at the door for head scratches."  

2 p.m. Friday update:

The cause of the fire is still undetermined, according to the state fire marshal's office, but investigators do say they see nothing that makes them  think it's a criminal act, according to investigator Frank Reitmeier. 

Reitmeier said he and a team of three investigators arrived after daylight for a better view of the scene. The investigation is ongoing, and the team is looking into reports of previous power outages to see if there is a connection between those incidents and the fire. The investigation is preliminary because of the devastation of the barn. 

The fire was traumatic for everyone, especially those animals closest to the flames, Hunt said. She said staff on site managed to free a zebra that was being sheltered near where the fire broke out Thursday. That zebra currently is in good condition, she said, and four other zebras also appear to be in good health. Staff on Thursday also released two other giraffes because of fear the fire would be near their habitat. All have been brought back into the safety of their barns. At no time did any animals leave the confines of the African Safari Wildlife Park grounds, Hunt said.  

Hunt also said that the barn that burned down was a wooden structure that was built in the 1980s. It had no fire suppression system. The building was totally destroyed and firefighters from three departments were on scene until 3 a.m. As far as reports of explosions that were heard during the fire, Hunt said while she is still waiting for the investigation to be finalized, there were propane heaters throughout the barn. 

The park was scheduled to close on Sunday, and Hunt said it's unclear whether it can open Saturday or Sunday. 

"We have established a conservation fund. ... Many people are asking what they can do to help, which we deeply appreciate," Hunt said. "Contributions can be made that  will go to conservation, that support particularly giraffe conservation. Before we reopen next season, we will consider a plaque in the dedication of these animals." 

“We are establishing a memorial as part of our Guardian of Wildlife fund from which all donations go to wildlife conservation, including supporting giraffe conservation. We all love wildlife and want to turn this tragedy into a positive for wildlife.”

Donations are currently being accepted at: https://bit.ly/2Y3Tfky

African Safari Wildlife Park donations
African Safari Wildlife Park

Hunt said further updates on the animals and future plans will be posted to the African Safari Wildlife Park website and Facebook page. The investigation is ongoing and is in the hands of the Ohio Fire Marshal's Office. 

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Outside the gates of the wildlife park on Friday morning, there have been Ottawa County Sheriff’s deputies and Danbury police going in and out.

The park remains closed Friday. 

What we already know is that three giraffes, three forest antelope, three Red River hogs and a springbok died Thanksgiving night when a barn caught fire and they couldn’t escape. A zebra that was in the overhang on the outside of the barn was able to get out harm's way as the fire spread. A giraffe in a neighboring barn was let out in case that structure also caught fire. Park employees have put the animal back in its enclosure.  

"We are devastated by this loss. These are animals we cared for everyday and our team is just devastated. We appreciate the support of the community and the first responders to help us save what we can," said Holly Hunt, a co-owner of the park.

The wildlife park is on 100 acres and was closed for Thanksgiving when the fire took place. According to the park, the animals were in the barn for “overnight care and security.” 

No staff or firefighters were injured and they were able to save a zebra out of the barn.

 The state fire marshal was arriving at the park Friday morning.

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