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Fire at Little Ponderosa Zoo destroys barn, kills animals; owner vows to rebuild

A fire at the main barn at Anderson County’s non-profit Little Ponderosa Zoo and Rescue Monday afternoon killed several animals.

The fire, which started in the rear of the barn that also served as the main entrance to the popular attraction, was reported at around 12:15 pm Monday and crews from all five of the county’s volunteer fire departments–Andersonville, Briceville, Claxton, Marlow and Medford–responded to the scene.

Despite their efforts, the barn is described as a total loss. Zoo employees are being credited with saving many of the animals from the smoke and flames, including one who crawled in beneath the flames to rescue a camel. Officials say that the animal death toll, currently estimated at around two dozen animals, could have been much higher without their heroic efforts.  The death toll could grow in the coming days, as the cleanup continues.

The animals believed to have perished include approximately 12 primates, six or seven dogs and cats, as well as birds and reptiles. Some 75% of the animals at Little Ponderosa escaped harm, and those that did require medical treatment for burns or smoke inhalation are being treated by veterinarians on site. The popular tiger exhibit was unaffected by the fire and the big cats are said to be doing just fine.

Only minor injuries were reported to zoo staffers who went in to the barn to evacuate animals, and they were treated at the scene by paramedics. One firefighter suffered what was described as a minor injury while battling the blaze and was taken to Methodist Medical Center for treatment.

The cause of the fire, while believed to be accidental, remains under investigation.

With about 200 animals housed in the destroyed barn, tents and other temporary shelters are being brought in to provide the surviving animals with a place to sleep and stay out of the elements.

In a Facebook post Monday night, Little Ponderosa owner James Cox vowed that they will rebuild, but added that they will need the assistance of the community.

The Little Ponderosa Zoo is a 501c3 organization that rescues and houses exotic animals. It is home to a wide variety of mammals, reptiles and birds including big cats, monkeys, wolves, zebras and camels.

If you’d like to make a donation to help, click here.

While money is clearly needed, if you are unable to contribute financially, the zoo is also accepting items lost in the fire like bowls, water bottles, hay, dog and cat food, bird seed, rabbit pellets, llama ration and beef, chicken and deer meat for the big cats.

Anderson County Chief Sheriff’s Deputy Mark Lucas summed up the feelings of the community in a press release Monday, writing: “This is a sad day as the Little Ponderosa has been a part of our community for a long time and the owner, James Cox, has been a close friend for many years.  Our thoughts and prayers go out to all at the Little Ponderosa.”

In addition to the volunteer fire departments, others responding to the scene included crews from the Anderson County Sheriff’s Office, EMS and Emergency Management as well as TWRA.

Little Ponderosa has long been one of the hidden jewels of the Anderson County community and now it is time for the community to rally in support of something so beloved by children and adults alike.

Deal’s Small Engine on North Main Street in Clinton and the Apple Blossom Cafe on Cullom Street in Clinton have donation boxes for those wishing to contribute to Little Ponderosa’s recovery efforts. As we learn of more donation opportunities, we will pass them along to you.

About Jim Harris

Jim Harris has been WYSH's News & Sports Director since 2000. In addition to reporting local news, he is the play-by-play voice for Clinton High School football, boys' and girls' basketball and baseball. Catch Jim live weekdays beginning at 6:20 am for live local news, sports, weather and traffic plus the Community Bulletin Board, shenanigans with Ron Meredith and more on the Country Club Morning Show on WYSH & WQLA. Jim lives in Clinton with his wife Kelly and daughter Carolina, his mother-in-law and cats Lucius and Oliver.

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