Several animals died in a fire at a Florida wildlife center early Thursday morning.
The incident, first reported by NBC6 affiliate TodayNews, was the result of a fire that occurred around 3 a.m. Thursday at the Alligator and Wildlife Research Center on Madeira Beach, near St. Petersburg.
“We suffered a tragic fire last night. Almost all animals have disappeared. We are devastated,” a post on the wildlife center’s Facebook page reads.
Sonny Flynn, owner of the center, told WTSP that all the mammals inside the building had died and many reptiles had been injured. Small mammals, lizards, amphibians, tortoises and tortoises, freshwater and marine marine life, and alligators were among the 250 animals at the center.
“They didn’t deserve this. This is my whole life,” Flynn said. “They all have names, they all have personalities, I come every morning and talk to them like Dr. Dolittle.”
Flynn said about 95% of the animals at the center were “rented out because people didn’t know how to take care of them, or they couldn’t take care of them.”
Madeira Beach Fire Chief Clint Belk said crews encountered heavy fire and smoke in front of the building.
“Unfortunately, this seems to be associated with a lot of animal deaths. It’s definitely unfortunate,” Belk said.
Belk added that the incident happened close to home because the property belonged to the former mayor of Madeira Beach.
“It affects us a lot. He was a big supporter of the fire department,” Belk said. – It really hurts. As a small community, we know these people by name.”
Although the cause of the fire is currently unknown, the state fire marshal and the Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office Arson Unit are investigating the fire.