Animals killed in Little Ponderosa Zoo blaze

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KNOXVILLE, TENNESSEE -- (WTVY) Several animals were killed in a fire at the Little Ponderosa Zoo in Clinton, according to the Anderson County Sheriff's Department.
The main barn entrance, which held a number of exhibits, was destroyed. Approximately 15 primates, reptiles, birds and small feline were lost to the fire.

"I'm devastated; my whole life is gone," James Cox, the zoo's founder, said. "I feel like what I've worked for is gone."

It was an emotional day for Little Ponderosa, a non-profit animal rescue and zoo off the beaten path in Anderson County.

"We've seen a lot of children smile and made a lot of people happy here," Cox said.

Just like the families that visited, the animals were family to the zoo's founder.

"Every animal has a soft spot in our heart," he said.

Flames ripped through the facility's main barn just after 12 p.m. on Monday. Firefighters still worked to determine a cause, but believed it was an accident.

Volunteers tell Local 8 News, the barn housed more than 100 animals, which included birds, reptiles, and primates.

"A lot of the animals in the barn did not survive because they didn't have time to get them out," Michelle Lockhart, a volunteer, said.

TWRA said 15 animals died, but it's still early on in the investigation.

Danielle Reynar, a volunteer, said, "To see this many animals pass away, it's unbelievable."

Employees said it took just minutes for the entire barn to become engulfed in flames.

Cox said, "They started smelling smoke and the next thing we knew, they opened the barn and it was engulfed in flames."

The barn also stored food for animals. The officers performed a thorough inspection of a tiger enclosure and determined that it was not damaged in any way. Zoo workers said no animals were missing.

Only minor injuries were reported by zoo workers. and one firefighter.

Local 8 News is working to confirm more information. Updates will be posted here. If you'd like to make a donation, visit the Ponderosa Zoo website.

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