Metro Richmond Zoo opens less than 24 hours after major fire

“We heard an explosion and I looked out the window and saw that the building behind me was on fire.”
A daring rescue from zookeepers and firefighters may be why several animals are safe.
Published: Jun. 5, 2023 at 6:41 PM EDT
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CHESTERFIELD Co., Va. (WWBT) -A daring rescue may be why several animals are safe in Metro Richmond Zoo.

Employees and first responders faced flames nearly 24 hours ago, rescuing animals as the fire increased. Now the zoo is starting a long road to recovery.

“We heard an explosion, and I looked out the window and saw that the building behind me was on fire,” Zoo Director Jim Andelin said.

Andelin and his family are rebuilding after the workshop, veterinary hospital, feed room and most of their equipment went up in flames Sunday night.

“We got the animals out as quickly as we could,” Andelin said.

That fire sparked just before 10 p.m. last night.

Chesterfield Fire and EMS were on the scene within nine minutes, but Andelin, who lives on site, beat them there to start saving the animals in the area.

All but one meerkat survived.

“There was a penguin, a kangaroo, three meerkats, [an] armadillo, [a] fruit bat and three little birds,” Andelin said.

That penguin Jim mentioned is now on its feet and in good spirits.

“On the way, I took a turn a little bit too tight and I wrecked my car and I ended up running the rest of the way,” lead zookeeper Jessica Gring said.

Gring has been with the zoo for 15 years and says nothing would stop her from getting to the animals to help save them.

“Once I got to the top of the zoo driveway, I just booked it down here and you know you really don’t think about those things when you’re just trying to get to where you need to be,” Gring said.

Gring and Andelin said while they now have a long way to go and it will take time to build back up, some good came out of the fire that took so much.

“We have been going back and forth on naming this penguin, and I think that it was truly meant to be that we held off because this is our 300th chick that was born here at the zoo,” Gring said. “He’s an African penguin, we don’t know the gender yet, but we were thinking about naming him something related to the fact that he’s the 300th chick, but after tonight we decided to go with the name Phoenix. We think that’s appropriate for him.”

Andelin said the other animals are doing well. Right now, they are just focused on rebuilding.

The cause of the fire is still being investigated, but the fire marshal says he believes it was an accident caused by equipment.