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Dozens of exotic animals dead after fire tears through Surrey rescue centre

Staff, volunteers ‘focusing on what needs to be done’ at Urban Safari Rescue Society after blaze

There’s much work to be done at Urban Safari Rescue Society in South Surrey after a Saturday morning fire destroyed its front room, killing approximately 60 animals.

“We lost all of the mammals – the sugar gliders, the guinea pigs, the skinny pigs (hairless Guinea pigs), the birds… a lot of the reptiles – we lost frogs, some geckos, some snakes and all of the fish except some of the betas,” said Pamala-Rose Combs, vice president on the rescue society’s board of directors.

Surrey Fire Service assistant chief of operations Greg McRobbie confirmed dispatch received a call about a possible structure fire at the society’s address, 1395 176 St., at 8:54 a.m. Saturday (Jan. 28) and noted 18 firefighters responded.

“They made entry into the building and found light to moderate smoke conditions… there was a small fire contained to a heating unit on one of the animal cages.”

A power outage had happened the night before, Combs said, and when the power came back on, “it came back with a surge that overpowered the surge protector that was powering a snake tank.”

The front room houses a lot of smaller animals and species, such as bugs and spiders, so about 200 of the rescue’s approximately 325 animals were in the room that had the fire.

“Everybody wants to know what happened to the cockroaches – the hissing Madagascar cockroaches,” Combs noted.

“One died out of 100 so they mostly made it.”

READ MORE: Fire kills ‘many’ animals at Urban Safari Rescue Society Saturday morning in South Surrey

Right now, she and staff and volunteers are “focusing on what needs to be done” and trying to set aside the sad aspects of the fire and its aftermath.

“When we start to focus on the animals that didn’t make it and the animals that we may still lose and the amount of work that’s involved it can get a little overwhelming,” she said Sunday.

“The risk we’re facing now is secondary respiratory infections.”

Two separate veterinarians are visiting in the next few days to help assess and treat the remaining animals, all of whom have been moved to a different part of the rescue or temporarily fostered off-site.

“We’re still in triage but coming out, I think.. we’re looking at the clean up – everything is covered with a thick layer of soot,” Combs said.

“When you start adding up the costs of everything – all the tanks, the furniture, new front door locks… it’s just adding up. We don’t know how much insurance will cover. We’re hoping we’ll hear from the (insurance) adjuster Monday or Tuesday.”

In the meantime, they’re buying heaters to help keep all of the animals that were moved warm, as well as replacing every single power bar and electrical cord because they don’t know what was affected in the fire.

The room will need to be “completely gutted” with rewiring likely required as well, she said.

Even as they deal with the mess, there’s been “little rays of hope.”

They had thought the pixie frog was dead, but it turns out, he’d just stayed under water long enough to wait out the fire and smoky environment.

“We went in today to clean out his tank, thinking he was gone – and he moved!” she said.

A small boa named Solo also made it, thanks to the fact he had just been switched to a tank that fell in the fire, breaking the top so he could escape.

“He lost an eye he may lose his other eye, but he’s alive and he seems to be doing well!”

The’re hoping the mounting costs will be offset by a GoFundMe fundraiser, one that has been ongoing.

About $2,000 of the GoFundMe is current, but the bulk of it is from 2020 to some time last year, Combs said, noting she didn’t want to start a brand new account when one was already active.

Help is needed for cleanup efforts, an they’re trying to keep everyone as updated as possible through the society’s Facebook site.

“One of the heart warming moments in all this heartbreak is the sheer volume of support coming form the public,” Combs said.

“To see it and to see all the people showing up here to help… knowing we still mean something to the community and that they still care about us – it means so much in all of this.”


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Sugar gliders were among the casualties after a fire at Urban Safari Rescue Society Saturday morning. Guinea pigs, skinny pigs, reptiles including frogs and geckos, were among the approximately 60 animals killed, as well as some exotic fish. (Unsplash photo)

Tricia Weel

About the Author: Tricia Weel

I’ve worked as a journalist in community newspapers from White Rock to Parksville and Qualicum Beach, to Abbotsford and Surrey.
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