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Firefighters raced to rescue lizards, a tortoise and a Great horned owl at the Discovery Center at Murfree Spring overnight Monday after fire struck the animal room. One wary firefighter even carried "Bill" the python out in his arms.

A heat lamp over the python's aquarium shorted, causing the plastic top to melt and activate the sprinklers, according to a statement from Murfreesboro Fire & Rescue Department. The snake's glass aquarium shattered.

Sprinklers doused the flames, firefighters said, but water almost drowned several of the animals who were in terrariums. Firefighters had to evacuate about 50 animals.

"They were carrying everything out from Bill the python to ... chinchillas," said Tara MacDougall, CEO at the Discovery Center. "They were not too crazy about handling all of these snakes, but they did a good job."

Madagascar hissing cockroaches perished, but no other animals were hurt, MacDougall said.

The Discovery Center opened as usual Tuesday.

Moving forward, MacDougall said, the center will make changes to allow firefighters immediate emergency access to the building at all hours.