There was a major fire at Zoosiana this weekend, but no animals were hurt. Why not? Well, some believe it was St. Francis was watching over them.
Firefighters responded to the back of the zoo in the 100 block of Lakeview Road shortly after 10:30 p.m. on Saturday; the building that houses the zoo’s train caught fire. Officials say they think it had been burning for some time before they arrived, and it took multiple agencies more than two hours to bring it under control.
The train building, the train and everything around it was destroyed – but one thing survived, and without any damage. It was a statue of St. Francis of Assisi, who is the patron saint of animals and ecology.
The owner of the zoo, George Oldenburg discovered the statue, unscathed Sunday morning amid the smoldering ashes, according to post on the Diocese of Lafayette’s Facebook page.
“I got goosebumps when I saw it. I mean, it’s unbelievable! The Holy Spirit was here protecting my animals, that’s for sure,” Oldenburg told the Diocese. He is a parishioner of Sacred Heart Catholic Church in Broussard.
Oldenburg said he had no idea what was going on until he received a phone call late Saturday night.
“When I opened up my eyes, all of my windows were glowing orange. It was a panic situation,” Oldenburg said.
The area where the fire was burning was only feet away from the giraffe and monkey enclosures. Oldenburg said his main concern was for the animals.
“They’re trapped in enclosures. I was prepared to start releasing them. I’d rather see them run free than have a death like that. I was ready to drive my truck through the fence to release them,” Oldenburg told the Diocese.
Firefighters were able to put the fire out, but not before the zoo’s train and depot were destroyed. Still, Oldenburg believes it could have been much worse.
“I believe I had a miracle. It’s been so dry around here. It would have been easy for the fire to engulf the whole zoo. We’re surrounded by bamboo and wooden walkways. It’s a miracle it didn’t all go up. Why the flames stopped right there, I think it’s because of St. Francis. He was protecting the animals," he told the Diocese.
Despite the loss of the train and depot, the zoo remains open. The area is closed off and the rest of the zoo remains fully functional.
Oldenburg plans to rebuild the train depot and replace the train, and told the Diocese he’s also considering creating a special place within the zoo for the statue of St. Francis.
The cause of the fire is still under investigation.