ORANGE COUNTY, Fla. — More than 40 animals -- including dogs, snakes, birds and tortoises -- are dead after a fire at an animal sanctuary in Orange County early Monday morning, firefighters said.
Orange County Fire Rescue said the fire broke out after 1 a.m. at Second Chance Wildlife Sanctuary on Baron Road in Orange County.
The sanctuary doubles as a home for the owner, Jim Bronzo, who was asleep on the second floor when flames broke out, firefighters said. They said Bronzo was only alerted to the fire by peacocks squawking outside.
Bronzo escaped the flames uninjured.
"If that peacock did not scream, I would've died in my bed in 10 more seconds," Bronzo said. "I just can't imagine what (the animals) must have been through. I just can't get it out of my mind. I'm still in shock."
Channel 9 had just been at the animal sanctuary on Friday to report on a dispute between Bronzo and a neighbor who had been firing gunshots and setting off explosives, which Bronzo said were scaring the animals.
Bronzo was supposed to meet with county commissioners Tuesday.
Firefighters said at any given time the sanctuary can be home to as many as 300 to 350 animals, ranging from dogs and cats to pigs and swans.
Neighbor Denis Moredo said he heard an "explosion" and then saw flames coming from his neighbor's home. He said he also saw a swan running across the road to escape the blaze.
"All of the sudden I see these flames just blazing up 30 feet high. And I went out with my dad. Our first instinct was to go see if the owner was OK," Moredo said.
Firefighters said by the time they arrived, the wood-framed home was completely involved. Bronzo said he tried to rescue his dogs, which were asleep with him in bed, but he only managed to pull one out alive.
"I had no clothes on, no phone, no nothing," Bronzo said. "I couldn't even call for help, I couldn't find my phone. I ran up to get the dogs out and I screamed at them. They got scared and they all scattered."
Some 41 animals died in the fire, including dogs, snakes, parrots and four giant tortoises.
"All of them are gone. They're all burnt. Everything is gone. His home is gone. He ran out of the house with just himself," said neighbor Rose Arnemann.
Volunteers traveled from near and far to donate hay and animal food to Bronzo on Monday evening.
"He's never said no to an animal that has either been dropped off at his gate or given to him," said Katrina Shadix, a friend of his. "For decades, he's helped everyone, so now it's time for all of us to get together and help him."
A GoFundMe page has already raised almost $57,000 to benefit the sanctuary.
The cause of the fire remains under investigation.
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