Thousands of visitors and animals were evacuated from Chester Zoo today after a huge fire broke out at the attraction in the north-west of England.
Crocodiles, orangutans and snakes were among the animals under threat as 15 fire engines tried to bring the blaze at the Monsoon Forest area under control.
Pictures and video showed huge clouds of black smoke pouring out of the Cheshire venue, which is home to 21,000 animals.
The fire service said all the mammals had been accounted for – with reports of endangered Sumatran orangutans being led outside in blankets – while one person was treated for smoke inhalation and zoo workers checked on other species.
Firefighters at Chester Zoo after a fire broke out in the Monsoon Forest habitat area and destroyed the roof
Fire crews spray water on the Monsoon Forest habitat area at Chester Zoo after the fire broke out at around 11.30 on Saturday morning
Flames and plumes of smoke pour out of the building at Chester Zoo
Chester Zoo was evacuated after a huge fire broke out at the attraction north-west England
By early afternoon the blaze appeared to be largely out with fire crews working to bring the animals to safety, with armed police also on the seen.
The creatures were rushed to safety as the blaze spread rapidly through the polymer roofing material.
One witness at the 125-acre park said they had seen ‘orangutans coming out and the gibbons swinging around the netting on the enclosure’ but emergency services have said the mammals are all safe.
Another guest evacuated, Daniel Murphy, told MailOnline that smoke had already been visible when he was allowed into the zoo.
He said: ‘Having just been evacuated from the zoo I can confirm the fire looked to be contained and controlled.
‘Was clearly burning when we were admitted and half an hour later evacuation ordered.’
Emergency tend to the large fire that ravaged the roof of the Monsoon Forest habitat area
Crocodiles, orangutans and snakes were among the animals under threat as 15 fire engines tried to bring the blaze under control
By early afternoon the blaze appeared to be largely out with fire crews working to bring the animals to safety
‘Appears the fire crews have reduced the size of fire. Heavy police and ambulance presence all around as well, unclear if any people were caught up.’
The fire service said: ‘The zoo has been evacuated and all animals are accounted for. There are no reports of any injuries at this time.
‘Drivers are advised to avoid the area. There are currently 15 fire appliances in attendance at the scene.
Chester Zoo said in a statement: ‘Chester Zoo can confirm that the fire services are attending to a fire inside its Monsoon Forest habitat today.
‘Visitors were evacuated immediately and the zoo’s response team worked alongside the emergency services to help bring the situation under control.
‘The zoo’s teams are now assessing the situation. Critically endangered Sumatran orangutans and other mammals are all accounted for. We are working hard to account for all other species.
‘The zoo remains closed. The zoo’s The Lanterns event this evening has been cancelled and ticket holders notified by email’
A firefighter is lifted in a crane above the Monsoon Forest enclosure after the blaze broke out there on Saturday morning
Chester Zoo after the fire broke out in the Monsoon Forest habitat area
Fire engines and a police car at the scene of the fire at Chester Zoo on Saturday afternoon
‘Our response team is working alongside emergency services to bring the situation under control. The zoo is now closed. We’ll update as soon as we can.’
Another witness said it had ‘started off as a little fire’.
Sophie Flynn said: ‘Staff and keepers working hard to deal – hope the animals are all OK!!! It started as a little fire in the which we saw but it’s obviously much worse now!!!’
Emma Flanagan, another of the guests, told the Liverpool Echo: ‘We saw the fire as we arrived, we thought it may be the zoo but we went into the car park anyway.
‘One of the members of staff said it was one of the islands where the fire was.
‘He said around 40 animals had been evacuated, people were still in there but they were getting told to leave.’
Another said: ‘It’s very upsetting to see and judging by the speed I watched the fire grow, I’ll be surprised if there are no animal casualties.’
David Clough told said he could see the blaze from his house, saying he was ‘very worried for the people and animals that would have been inside’.
Mr Clough, 50, who lives across the road from the zoo, said: ‘We first saw signs of the fire shortly after 11.30.
Flames and smoke pour from the building in what one witness said had ‘started off as a little fire’ but grew until the park had to be closed and evacuated
A blaze broke out at the zoo in north-west England on Saturday morning with smoke pouring out of one of the buildings
‘The Monsoon Forest building in the zoo’s new Islands development was on fire. It has an inflatable roof that was burning. Lots of flames and smoke.’
‘It was spreading across the roof in strong winds for a while. Lots of fire engines arrived quickly.
‘By about 30 mins ago the main flames had gone, but there’s a smaller fire still burning at the southern end of the roof.’
Another zoo visitor said: ”We were in the Monsoon enclosure when it happened and were rushed out due to an electrical fire. It spread very quickly.
‘The staff ensured all the members of the public were safe. Many staff (were) running towards the fire, (I’m) assuming to help with evacuating animals.
‘The entire zoo is closed – a shame as we’ve travelled up from Plymouth.’
The enclosure at Chester Zoo – which is home to around 21,000 animals – which caught fire today is seen from the air
The Monsoon Forest enclosure, part of the zoo’s Islands section, includes crocodiles, a tentacled snake and an Asian forest tortoise.
A Sulawesi crested macaque, rhinoceros hornbill and Sumatran orangutans also feature in the exhibition along with an underwater viewing area.
Chester Zoo has described the £40million attraction, which opened in 2015, as the ‘largest indoor zoo exhibit in UK history’.
The 5,000 square metre area includes raised forest walkways and underwater viewing areas where visitors can see the crocodiles.
It is clad in a giant polymer dome, much of which was destroyed in Saturday’s blaze.
The conditions inside mimic the climate in South East Asia, and also contains exotic plant species including starfruit, mango, paw paw, orchids and palm trees.
Video taken by witnesses at the scene showed the roof of the enclosure – which is home to animals including crocodiles and orangutans – on fire
Another of the guests said: ‘Thank you for an amazing job with a safe evacuation whilst inside the Monsoon enclosure. We wish all the staff and animals a safe incident.’
One person has been treated for smoke inhalation.
A spokeswoman for North West Ambulance Service said it was called to the scene at 11.42am on Saturday.
‘We had two rapid response vehicles and one ambulance on the scene, all of which cleared as there were no patients,’ she said.
‘There is one patient with smoke inhalation. We’ve got an officer on the scene.’
No further details were provided about their condition.
A Welsh Plaid Cymru MP was among the people evacuated, saying: ‘Hope all staff & animals are OK. Evacuation handled excellently.’
The zoo, which first opened its doors to visitors in 1931, receives around 1.9million visitors a year.
The zoo’s website crashed this afternoon as people searched for information about the fire.
Smoke was seen pouring out of the Monsoon Forest habitat at Chester Zoo on Saturday