Animals killed, injured in suspicious fire at New Richmond wildlife center

This mini pig survived the fire, but is now at an animal hospital being treated for severe burns. (Provided)
This mini pig survived the fire, but is now at an animal hospital being treated for severe burns. (Provided)

NEW RICHMOND, OH (FOX19) - Animals are missing, some are severely injured and others are dead because of a suspicious fire at a wildlife center in New Richmond, Ohio.

The owners are now scrambling to repair the physical damage while they try to cope with the emotional impact.

Jeff Hartnady is the director of the up and coming Spencer Park Aviary and Wildlife Center. He and his family have been working on getting the center up and running as a family-friendly and educational attraction for several years.
Right now, they house a variety of species at their personal home and at the park.

According to Hartnady, two Midwest Power employees who have been working and staying at the park spotted a fire around 6 a.m. Wednesday morning. A building that is used to house some of the animals in the winter had burst into flames.

The men alerted Hartnady and then took action without hesitation.

"Seth Stratton and Charlie Ward are their names," Hartnady said. "They need a lot of credit. They're the only reason these [animals] are alive."

Hartnady and his family arrived shortly after, along with firefighters. They released as many animals as possible in hopes it would give them a shot at survival.

Of the 13 birds that were released during the blaze, eight of them are still missing.

"You know you do things you would never do. We were running in there, and it's totally on fire," Hartnady said. "Plastic is dripping from the ceiling, from the plastic, and you go in there anyway."

A giant tortoise and a mini pig that were inside the space are now both at animal hospitals getting treated for severe burns.

A parrot was also burned and lost its mate. It was one of several creatures that died.

The good news, Hartnady said, is they were able to salvage part of the building, and with help from volunteers, they constructed a short term living space.

"They took a goat barn and turned it into a little mini greenhouse with some temporary cages," Hartnady said.

Hartnady said the cages are too small, but they will work for a limited time.

The New Richmond fire chief is leading the investigation into what caused the fire, and right now, it's hard to say.

"The main fire was in the back where there isn't a heat source," Hartnady said.

There is a wood stove inside the structure, but Hartnady said that the charred remains are in a completely different area which makes what happened mysterious and even somewhat suspicious. 

Losing the animals and dealing with the damage has been devastating for the Hartnady family, but they plan to overcome it. The next step is getting back to business so they can open the center to the public sooner rather than later.

"Financially it hurts a lot, but we're still going to move forward," Hartnady said. "We're going to make it happen."

The fire chief said they have not pinpointed the cause of the fire, but are not ruling anything out, including arson.

Hartnady said that they are taking donations to put towards vet care and damage. Those interested in donating can do so through their website.

When the center is complete and open, Hartnady said it will feel like a miniature zoo with a number of different exhibits housing animals.

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