CUMBERLAND, March 30 -- A day after more than 100 animals died in a blaze, the blackened headquarters of the Tri-State Zoological Park was a shambles.
Part of the roof had collapsed onto the main floor. Part of the main floor had collapsed into the basement. The old building's log beams were charred black, and debris was scattered everywhere.
Fire investigators picked through the wreckage trying to determine the cause as the zoo's owners and a few workers stood outside wondering what they would do next.
Primates, snakes, birds, tortoises, rabbits, prairie dogs and an armadillo were among the animals that perished Wednesday morning, either of burns or smoke inhalation. Only two alligators in a pool survived. A dog and the creatures in outdoor pens were spared, but that was small consolation to Bob and Donna Candy, the zoo's owners.
"We're devastated," said Donna Candy, who had bought the abandoned 16-acre property with her husband to fulfill a dream of creating a zoo. The nonprofit zoo opened in 2003 and attracted about 20,000 visitors last year.
She and the workers recalled the creatures that died: a red-tailed boa constrictor that had just had 19 babies, a pair of coatimundis named Cody and Wild Bill, a talkative Moluccan cockatoo named Peaches, a large tortoise named Tank, and Dr. Ryan, a pig-tailed macaque who made the same facial expressions as a veterinarian of that name.
The Candys and others had rescued the creatures, acquiring them from owners who were no longer able to care for them. They got the monkeys from medical research labs that would have killed them.
"They're our family," Donna Candy said.
"My life just went up in smoke here," her husband said.
A light but steady stream of people from the community came to pay respects Thursday and to offer help -- money, food for the surviving animals and space to store food, because the fire had destroyed the zoo's refrigerators.
Bob Candy was in Baltimore on business for his job with the food facilities company Sodexho when he learned of the fire, about 7 a.m., he said. He raced back to Cumberland, initially thinking it was just a fence post that had caught fire. Something inconsequential.
"The next call, they were hysterical," he remembered. He imagined his entire zoo in flames. A police officer pulled him over for driving at more than 100 mph with his hazard lights flashing.
"My zoo is on fire!" Candy recalled telling the officer.
The scene was "hectic" when Candy arrived at 9 a.m., he said. More than 75 firefighters had responded from across the region, said Jason Mowbray, the state fire marshal's lead investigator in the case. One of the firefighters was Jonathan Harr of the Baltimore Pike Volunteer Fire Company. Harr also volunteers at the zoo.
"We got the door open," Harr recalled. He pointed to the front door, still green on the outside but black on the inside. "We got five feet inside, but the heat was too intense." When firefighters had the blaze under control, they moved inside to recover the animals. On the main floor, the creatures, many of them birds, had burned. In the basement, the reptiles and primates were unconscious from the smoke. Outside, firefighters tried to breathe life back into the animals, but only the two alligators made it.
Mowbray said he believed the fire had started hours before the first call came in at 6:41 a.m. "Most likely, I would think that the animals had died by that time."
On Thursday, as Donna Candy gave a tour of what remained of the zoo, she stopped by the cage of a lion named Boo. She had raised the lion since he was a cub; now that he is 1 1/2 years old, he weighs more than 200 pounds. As soon as Candy stood in front of the chain-link fence, Boo walked up to her and made a low, grumbling noise. She stuck her fingers through the fence to pet him. He obligingly licked her fingers, then rolled over like an overgrown house cat as she stroked his fur.
"Okay, sweetie, okay," Candy said. "I know it was scary. It's okay."