Fatal animal enclosure fire 'one of worst days in wildlife centre's history'
"Ladies and gentlemen, as many will have now seen, the sanctuary took a devastating, heart-wrenching blow."
Three giant tortoises, a meerkat and around 15 fruit bats have been killed in a blaze at a Staffordshire wildlife centre.
The animals died in a fire at Gentleshaw Wildlife Centre in Eccleshall which started at around 5.40am on Monday morning.
Around 15 firefighters from Eccleshall, Stafford and Stone tackled the blaze, which left one animal enclosure gutted.
A spokeswoman posted on the centre's Facebook page saying it has been one of the worst days in 26 years of business.
The post said: "Ladies and gentlemen, as many will have now seen, the sanctuary took a devastating, heart-wrenching blow early this morning.
"A fire, believed to have been caused by an electrical fault, took three enclosures. It also took some of our animal family.
"Our family of fruit bats, Todd,Thelma and Louise, our giant tortoises and our darling Basil the meerkat.
"As you will appreciate, as a small, family run sanctuary, this has been one of the worst days in our 26 years.
"No changes had been made to any of the heating system in place, but clearly something went badly wrong. The sanctuary will be closed for now whilst we clean up and attempt to carry on.
"Thank you for those offering support.
"As director it is my job to keep our rescue animals safe, my heart aches for the lives I treasured and could not keep safe from harm."
Staffordshire Fire & Rescue Service said the blaze was started by a fault within the electrical heating system.
A spokeswoman for the service explained: "The fire service was called at 5.39am and around 15 firefighters and a fire officer attended.
"It involved a fire in an outhouse which was used as an animal enclosure, approximately 10 by five metres.
"There were animals involved, three tortoises and a meerkat that were deceased at the scene.
"They used one main jet and one hose reel jet to put out the fire and carried out a full investigation with the help of Western Power Distribution and found that the fault was within the electrical heating system within the enclosure.
"The last appliance returned at 9.15am."
Basil the meerkat survived the blaze by running out of the enclosure, according to the fire service.
The fire in Stone Road also involved power cables, leaving around 14 neighbouring properties without power, including Fletchers Garden Centre next door.
However the garden centre opened as usual, with Western Power Distribution restoring power via a portable generator while the mains supply was fixed.
The centre, which houses around 100 exotic animals and birds of prey, was closed on Monday.
It has been at its current base in Eccleshall since the early 1990s although its founder, the late Rob Smith, had been rescuing birds of prey and animals for many years before.
Funds were raised in 2015 for the new outdoor part of the enclosure for the meerkats, Basil and Sybil, which will now be rebuilt.
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