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Reptiles die after smoky fire at San Antonio Zoo

Firefighters help evacuate dozens of animals, including 350 pound python

SAN ANTONIO - Six animals are dead after an early morning fire at the San Antonio Zoo that sent smoke pouring into the reptile exhibit.


Of those, a 15-year-old female Komodo dragon named “Scatha” was a favorite amongst zoo staff and guests.

The other reptiles including two Amazon tree boas, two Solomon skinks, and a Red Mountain racer all died due to smoke inhalation, according to zoo spokeswoman Debbie Rios-Vanskike.

The Zoo’s other Komodo dragon, a 20-year-old male named “Bubba,” a reticulated python, and 92 snakes and lizards were moved out of the building into other holding areas.

“It will cost the Zoo approximately $100,000 to repair the damage,” Zoo Director Steve McCusker said in a released statement Monday afternoon. “It is unfortunate that during the clean-up phase, some impressive creatures will be temporarily unavailable for public enjoyment.”

It is estimated that it will take six to eight months to repair the Komodo dragon exhibit and holding building.

San Antonio firefighters responded to the scene, in the 3900 block of N. St. Mary’s Street, after 5:30 a.m. Monday and found workers already putting out the fire in the two-story building.

"Our main challenge was heavy smoke that was in the enclosure, which used to be a giraffe house. A heavy concrete enclosure,” said Fire Chief Charles Hood, who showed up after learning that a major city attraction could be in jeopardy.

"As soon as I heard that, I knew it was going to be a significant call for us, but fortunately more animals weren't injured this morning," he said.

Hood said firefighters had to help zoo workers move dozens of animals out of harm’s way, including a 350-pound python named Bernice.

"When we were moving the snake, it took the zookeepers to help us. We're not used to dealing with 22-foot snakes," Hood said.

Steve McCusker, the zoo’s director, said it will take months -- and about $100,000 -- to repair the facility.

"Everybody's got, sort of, a lump in their stomach about it,” McCusker said. "It'll affect us, and there will be some really cool stuff off exhibit for a long time that the public won't get to enjoy."

McCusker said it appears that an electrical short in a “hog mat,” or heating mat, sparked the fire.

He said, like farms and ranches, the zoo uses the devices to keep animals warm.

McCusker said he and his staff will do a careful inspection to figure out what went wrong.

But he said there are no plans for the zoo to stop using them.

Komodo enclosure pic Scatha, the komodo dragon

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