Several animals were killed in a barn fire at the Little Ponderosa Zoo in Clinton on Monday.
The fire started in the back of the main barn, which houses about 200 animals, including birds, reptiles, primates, dogs and even camels during the Christmas season.
The fire was reported at 12:13 p.m., according to Anderson County Sheriff's Office Chief Deputy Mark Lucas. All five county volunteer fire departments responded and were able to confine the damage to one barn.
The zoo's founder and director James Cox said the fire was "devastating."
"My whole life is gone. I feel like what I've worked for is gone," Cox said, fighting back tears.
Lucas said the zoo's tiger exhibit was not impacted by the fire, and officials estimate about 75 percent of the animals made it out alive.
The Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency also responded to the fire and confirmed that two corn snakes that were permitted by the TWRA were in the barn and killed. Zoo workers told TWRA investigators that approximately 12 primates, 6 or 7 cats and some reptiles and birds were killed.
Zoo workers were able to evacuate some of the animals, which are in a secure area and being treated by veterinarians.
“My employees were very good and people were dedicated. We actually had an employee go in the flames and bring out a camel, and we saved the camel," Cox said.
Two workers were treated for minor injuries they sustained while trying to save the animals.
“They saved a lot of the animals. They grabbed them. A lot of the cages they opened up, got them out, take them to safety," Cox said. "I’m really, really grateful for our employees and what they did here today.”
The zoo's vet said a dog and two cats need to be treated for injuries from the fire.
Investigators are working to determine what caused the fire, but it is believed to be an accident. The fire marshal is expected to be at the zoo on Tuesday.
"This is a sad day as the Little Ponderosa has been a part of our community for a long time and the owner, James Cox, has been a close friend for many years. Our thoughts and prayers go out to all at the Little Ponderosa," Lucas said in a press release.
The barn is a complete loss, but Cox said he is already making plans to rebuild so kids and families can come back to the zoo they've enjoyed for years.
“We’ve seen a lot of children smile and made a lot of people happy here in the last 10, 12, 15 years," he said. "I've got to be in a hurry. I've got to get it done quickly if I’m going to build back so I can see these kids enjoy these animals one more time.”
Little Ponderosa Zoo is a 501c3 organization that rescues and houses exotic animals. It is home to a wide variety of mammals, reptiles and birds including big cats, monkeys, wolves, zebras and camels.
If you'd like to make a donation to help, click here. They are also asking for basic supplies such as bowls, water bottles, dog food, cat food and more. (If the link doesn't work, please go to the zoo's website and scroll down to the donate button.