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Posted by: Kirsten Pisto, communications

Thank you for your continued support and thoughts for the zoo during the event Thursday night and afterwards.

We’d like to update you with more details of the fire and the recovery efforts.

Fire crews fight the blaze from the roof of the Night Exhibit on Thursday, Dec 15. Photo courtesy of Seattle Fire Department.
At approximately 3:15 p.m. Thursday, 12/15, a fire was reported in the Night Exhibit. Within minutes of making the call, the Seattle Fire Department responded. The zoo’s Emergency Response Team also responded. The fire was contained at 4:30 p.m. Visitors were safely evacuated and there were no staff or visitor injuries.

Our staff practices emergency drills throughout the year. In fact, we had held a venomous snake drill the day before the fire.  These protocols helped immensely during the incident Thursday night, as everyone knew where they should go and what role to play. Because of our training and practice throughout the year, every team member was organized which allowed for an immediate emergency response.

The Seattle Fire Department reported that two firefighters sustained minor injuries during the event last night. Fortunately, they have been treated and released. Our thoughts are with them for a speedy recovery. 

Animals are removed from the Day Exhibit. Photo by Photo by Keith Neitman/Woodland Park Zoo.

Zoo staff and SFD work to secure a perimeter and evacuate animals from the Day Exhibit. Photo by Keith Neitman/Woodland Park Zoo.

Smoke spread to the adjacent Day Exhibit where about 200 animals—a variety of reptiles, amphibians and a tree kangaroo—call home.  Even as the fire department was working to put out the flames on the Night Exhibit’s roof, pairs of keepers, after given the okay by the fire chief, bravely ventured into the Day Exhibit to begin evacuating the animals. They wore respirator masks to protect them from high carbon monoxide levels, had assignments for evacuating specific animals, and were observed by the SFD’s medical team on exit to ensure they were ok. The keepers entered the building and hooked and bagged snakes by headlamp. They waded into pools to rescue turtles and crocodiles. The animals living in the Day Exhibit were evacuated and swiftly transported in warm vehicles to eight locations around the zoo, all within a two hour period. Our keepers always go the extra mile for the animals they care for and yesterday was no different.

Smoke can be seen coming from the Night Exhibit. Photo by Kieth Neitman/Woodland Park Zoo.
While the Night Exhibit has been closed to the public for nearly seven years and has no longer housed animals, a special room in the basement was used for turtles hibernating in the winter. Two black-breasted leaf turtles and four Indochinese box turtles had been placed in a hibernation chamber in the Night Exhibit building. While there were early indications that no animals were harmed, it was later learned that these six small turtles likely perished in the fire. We still do not have access to this building. Any loss of life is hard, but this loss is especially heartbreaking given the tireless work of our staff to evacuate all of the animals they could reach. The cause of the fire remains unknown but Seattle Fire Department has indicated the fire was initiated in the building’s basement. As you can imagine, our reptile and amphibian keepers would have done anything they could to retrieve these six turtles. Please keep them in your thoughts.

Zoo staff prepare temporary quarters for evacuated animals from the Day Exhibit. Photo by Jeremy Dwyer-Lindgren/ Woodland Park Zoo.

Staff swiftly transport reptiles and amphibians to other areas of the zoo after removing them from the Day Exhibit. Photo by Jeremy Dwyer-Lindgren/ Woodland Park Zoo.
Some snakes were put into pillowcases for safe transportation during the evacuation. Photo by Kirsten Pisto/Woodland Park Zoo.
As staff set up a perimeter and began to evacuate the surrounding exhibits, the entire zoo acted to assist in any way they could. Staff from many departments around the zoo helped out with gathering transport crates, bringing blankets for animals, warm jackets for staff, and other supplies needed for the operation. They found room in a fridge for the antivenom we store on zoo grounds. They made room in other animal units to hold the evacuees. They formed a command center to coordinate communication and logistics throughout the afternoon and evening.  Animal Health performed health assessments for as many animals as possible last night, and they are continuing that work today. 

The evacuated animals are all doing well as of this morning, and we have developed an action plan for their interim care until we get word we can return them to their homes in the Day Exhibit. 

A frog sits in its temporary home after being evacuated. Photo by Jeremy Dwyer-Lindgren/ Woodland Park Zoo.

Relocated reptiles and amphibians are placed in temporary home after being evacuated. Photo by Kirsten Pisto/Woodland Park Zoo.
“The safety of our animals, guests and staff is our number one priority. Our animals are in good condition and we have an action plan for their interim care until the Day Exhibit can be safely re-occupied. Meanwhile, we’ll continue to keep a vigilant eye on each animal, and support our staff involved in their care,” says Nancy Hawkes, PhD, the zoo’s general curator. “The efforts our staff took to save these animals and their commitment and teamwork were heroic. They put themselves in harm’s way to save these animals. We are so grateful to the amazing support from SFD who put their lives at risk every day, and to the outpouring of support from our community.”

When you work at the zoo, it’s easy to see every day examples of the commitment and compassion our entire staff have for the animals that live here. Yesterday was especially hard for the zoo community, but it was also a testament to the kind of people who work here. Every single member of our zoo assisted in some way, and they were eager to help.

Jennifer Pramuk, PhD, curator of reptiles and amphibians manages the situation on Friday morning. Photo by Kirsten Pisto/ Woodland Park Zoo.
Just a few of the 200 animals that were relocated to temporary homes across the zoo. Photo by Jeremy Dwyer-Lindgren/Woodland Park Zoo.

Zoo staff tend to the animals that were evacuated from the Day Exhibit. Photo by Jeremy Dwyer-Lindgren/ Woodland Park Zoo.
The amazing support we received from SFD and the commitment, teamwork and heroics we saw from our staff and will continue to see over the coming days is heartening. 

As of now, the cause of the fire is still unknown, but SFD will provide more information as it is forthcoming. The firefighters were amazing to behold in their quick and efficient response. 

And you, our community of zoo fans and members, you sent us encouraging comments and thoughtful support throughout the night. We have also received great support from our zoo colleagues nationwide.

Many of you have asked if there are ways that you can help. Besides your continued support and uplifting words, if you’d like you can donate directly to amphibian and reptile care, by visiting, and designate “Reptile and Amphibian Care”.

The zoo is open this weekend with normal zoo hours 9:30 a.m. - 4:00 p.m. and we would love to see you.

Thank you for being on our team.

Thank you from Woodland Park Zoo General Curator Nancy Hawkes.


Sue said…
So, so, so grateful that all of you (except the poor turtles) are okay and that you were there to help. As a docent and volunteer, the zoo is my happy place, not only because of the wonderful animals and plants; but because of the amazing people, both staff and volunteers. Love you all.
blogfollower said…
So sad about the turtles. Thanks for everyone's efforts in protecting all the animals you could. Caring thoughts with your zoo and staff.