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Winder Zoo building catches fire

The zoo operates as a sanctuary for exotic and non-releasable state wildlife.

WINDER, Ga. — Several animals at a Winder zoo were killed after one of their buildings caught on fire Monday night.

The Hand Me Down Zoo, a sanctuary for exotic and non-releasable state wildlife closed its doors at 8 p.m. Monday, and by 10 p.m. one of its buildings was engulfed in flames.

Kerry Ervin, the zoo’s owner, said 52 animals were lost in the fire, most of them were reptiles and birds that lived in the building. 

The fire’s point of origin was determined to be a mini-split AC unit on the main level of the building, according to a fire marshal at the Barrow Fire Department. 

In a Facebook post on Tuesday Ervin shared her appreciation for the Barrow Fire Department for helping save the animals. 

Monday night we are experienced any animal owners worst fear. Our building caught fire. We had shut down for the evening at 8pm. By 10pm the building was engulfed in flames. First responders were on the scene ASAP but the building was too intense. Sadly despite best efforts we lost many species. Most of our reptiles and all of the birds housed in the building didn’t make it. We do offer an incredible amount of appreciation for Barrow Fire Department for rescuing as many animals as they could. It was very impressive seeing these guys picking up porcupines and other less then friendly animals with no concern to their individual safety. They saved most of our mammals on the main level. The fire Marshall has determined point of origin to an mini split AC unit on the main level.

I’d like to personally thank all of the Barrow County Fire Department, EMT, Sherif Department and Animal Control for going above and beyond to save the lives of our animals. I’d also like to thank Lisa, Sara, Cera, Brittany, Kayla, Jenn, Nicki, Sandee, Cyndi, Jake and Tammie (and your families) for swooping in and shutting down their world to help with mine. You know I love you all dearly and my world would never work without you. Thank you to Stephanie with Service Masters for helping us manage the damage as quickly as possible. And to Hoschton Animal Hospital for always being ready to help our babies with the love and attention they need.

To all of our community and supporters here’s how you can help:

Give me time. I love that you all want to jump right in but we need a moment to figure out what we need to figure out. Our priority is always the animals first so once we get them safe and ok we can figure out the rest.

Please be patient with us. We are sorry to mess up any spring break plans you had but the animals come first. We will work towards reopening for tours soon. Our main building will be closed for a while but we will still be able to travel to schools and outside locations. We hope to open the safari walk back up as it was not affected by the fire.

Donations: we will be setting up a go fund me shortly to assist with medical for the animals and to rebuild. If you would like to donate through our PayPal or zelle you are welcome to do so in the mean time.

PayPal — [email protected]
Zelle—- 706-429-4591

We are not a non profit so we can not provide a donation receipt. If you are donating ALL funds go directly to the zoo. We do not pull an income from the zoo so rest assured your help is going to the right cause.

Physical help: yes we need bodies soon but not just yet. As we determine how to move forward with the building we will need help gutting, cleaning, rebuilding. If you are wanting to help please message the zoo directly. Bonus to anyone with handyman skills, electrical or plumbing or building backgrounds. Unfortunately due to the safety risks of working around animals and the building debris we can not have young children involved during volunteering. For liability reasons we just can risk it.

If you are a company and you’d like to sponsor us with materials or services please let us know either by messaging the zoo or giving us a call at 706-429-4591

We still have animals that are not out of the woods. We will follow this post with an In Memory Of post so we can celebrate the memories of the sweet babies we lost in the fire.

Posted by HAND ME DOWN ZOO on Wednesday, April 6, 2022

“It was very impressive seeing these guys picking up porcupines and other less than friendly animals with no concern to their individual safety,” the post said. 

Although the first responders were quick to arrive at the fire, it was “too intense” and despite their efforts, many species were lost. Ervin said that fire crews stopped her from entering the burning building. 

“I would have lost my life in that building if they had not stopped me. I would not have thought twice about it. That’s how much they mean to me,” she said. 

The Florida native first opened the zoo in 2015 as a silent sanctuary for legal pets in Georgia. Her vision was to provide a place where people could come and see how pets such as guinea pigs, rabbits and reptiles should be taken care of. 

In 2019, the silent sanctuary began taking in exotic animals and state wildlife. 

“We got licensed through DNR and USDA at that point to be able to take in everything from zebras to kangaroos, deer, raccoons, foxes. So our job now is to facilitate a place for animals to go,” said Ervin. 

The sanctuary is a place where most of these animals considered illegal in Georgia can stay permanently instead of being euthanized. 

Ervin explains that the zoo’s insurance will not cover the damages in the building since the structure is being considered a business.

“We will have to be able to do this on our own,” she said. 

She is asking the public for time and help as they try to decide how to plan the rebuild process.

“We do have a lot of people reaching out wanting to help. If we have individuals out there that can donate time, labor, materials that cost or even donate financial means, we’re more than glad to have that,” said Ervin. “We do need a little bit of time to figure it out and make sure that we know what we need and when we need it and how we need it.”

Their online fundraiser showed that $2,620 has been raised as of Thursday morning.  The fundraiser’s goal is $75,000.

Before the fire, the zoo was available to the public on an appointment-only basis. Now, Ervin said that they hope to open their safari area soon while they keep the damaged building closed for the rebuild. 

“We do hope to open up at least the safari area that has not been affected by the fire. Unfortunately, our private encounter tour in our main building will probably be shut down for a good while,” she said.