Fire at Donegal animal park destroys 3 buildings


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As a blaze burned a feeding structure Sunday at a Westmoreland County exotic animal park, Matt and Fawn Dumbauld rounded up three dogs, two pot-bellied pigs and two baby kangaroos and fled their residence.

No people or animals were hurt in the four-alarm fire at Living Treasures Wild Animal Park in Donegal off Route 711, which destroyed the feeding structure and two nearby buildings. Firefighters from Westmoreland, Fayette and Somerset counties battled the blaze, which employees said started about 11:15 p.m. Sunday and burned until 4 a.m. Monday. Smoke continued to billow from the charred rubble Monday afternoon.

Thirteen guests at rental cabins on the property were evacuated to a nearby hotel as a precaution, although the cabins weren’t damaged. Enclosures that hold the animals inside the zoo also were not damaged, Mr. Dumbauld said, and normal operations resumed Monday morning.

Living Treasures offers visitors the opportunity to observe and interact with 300 exotic animals on site and brings in roughly 50,000 patrons a year. Guests may stay in rental cabins on the site.

Mr. and Mrs. Dumbauld lived on the property as on-site managers.

Mr. Dumbauld said he was watching television Sunday night when he heard an unfamiliar sound. His first thought, he said, was to check the baby kangaroos, Reagan and Liberty.

As he opened the door to the bathroom, where the kangaroos are kept, smoke poured from the room. After ensuring that the animals were safe, he looked out and saw the storage structure that contains animal feed engulfed in flames. An unoccupied cabin and his own residence, three buildings in all, were lost to the blaze.

An official cause of the fire has not yet been determined, although Mr. Dumbauld said electrical issues with a refrigerator in the feeding facility might be at fault. The feed lost in the fire was to be sold as retail and not intended for zoo purposes.

Mr. Dumbauld said, managers and park officials will continue to cooperate with adjusters and investigators to determine the case of the fire. The three damaged structures likely will be slated for demolition in the coming days, he said, and plans to rebuild are already in the works.

Mr. Dumbauld noted that visitors had reserved the two-story cabin that burned down but had not shown up.

Seven animals lived with Mr. and Mrs. Dumbauld in the residence. The couple and the animals escaped the fire with Mrs. Dumbauld clutching the baby kangaroos close to her chest and her husband grasping the pigs by their hind legs to wheel barrel them out of the building.

The side-by-side structures, located in front of the entrance to the area where the wild animals live, are a total loss.

As the buildings burned, Donna Tidwell, whose husband owns the park, checked the animals in the enclosure, including a white Bengal tiger, lions, llamas, zebras and a teenage spider monkey named Scotty.

“We wanted to make sure there was nothing disruptive [to the animals],” Ms. Tidwell said.

She wasn’t worried, she said, because the wind was redirecting the smoke away from the area where the animals are kept. In fact, there was never a question whether the private zoo would open for business Monday morning. Field trips, families and tourists all had plans to visit the zoo, she said.

The animal park has a good inspection history.

An inspection report from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service shows the zoo was in compliance on all items during its last routine inspection in 2013.

A 2014 report is not yet available.

In 2012, an inspector found that food was not properly packaged and had leaked juices into parts of a freezer, according to the USDA review.

Living Treasures is not accredited with the nonprofit Association of Zoos & Aquariums, nor has it applied for the recognition, said AZA spokesman Rob Vernon. He said accreditation is “a signal to the public and local elected leaders that that particular zoo or aquarium is operating on gold standards related to animal care as well as the general guest experience.”

 
Living Treasures Animal Park

Michael Majchrowicz: mmajchrowicz@post-gazette.com or on Twitter @mjmajchrowicz. Molly Born contributed.

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