The director of an Australian zoo which came dangerously close to burning down says he made two desperate phone calls to firefighters as bushfires approached.
Chad Staples and 15 of his staff were determined to fight the ‘apocalyptic’ New Year’s Eve inferno which threatened Mogo Zoo, on the New South Wales south coast, which is home to more than 200 animals.
The blaze crossed the Princes Highway after destroying much of the 170-year-old town of Mogo, and was fast approaching the 65-acre zoo.
Mogo Zoo director Chad Staples (pictured with actress Rebel Wilson) said his team managed to save all 200 animals
Giraffes are seen stranded in an open field as bushfire moves in on Mogo Zoo – as an army of 15 brave zookeepers stand guard with hoses and sprinklers to save the animals (pictured)
The sky turned red as the fire closed in on the property and Mr Staples made two calls to triple zero for back up, but no help came.
Staff were warned earlier in the day that help may not be able to come.
Resources were stretched thin, and the primary concern for the RFS was saving lives.
‘We didn’t have a single fire truck here the entire day,’ Mr Staples told Sydney Morning Herald.
He said in the weeks prior, his team consulted the RFS and told them of the plan to stay and fight for the sake of the animals.
Director of Mogo Zoo Chad Staples, 40, looks out at the devastation after the bushfires tore through Mogo
They were under the impression that ‘if needed, they would send resources to us,’ he said.
‘It was frightening, I had to make two triple zero calls to tell them it was bad and it was getting on top of us.’
But Mr Staples previously said a local fire service official stopped by to tell them no one would be able to come rescue them if things were to take a turn for the worst.
‘They were busting a gut to save everyone else,’ Mr Staples said.
‘I’ve never felt heat like that or seen fires that look like that and I never want to see that again.’
Director of Mogo Zoo Chad Staples, 40, looks at the zoo’s giraffes in the village of Mogo, Australia, January 8, just a week after the zoo narrowly escaped a devastating fire
A seven-month-old giraffe stands next to a wooden pole at the Mogo Zoo in the village of Mogo while older giraffes watch on
Mr Staples clarified he did not want to blame the RFS, but hoped in the future more resources would be deployed to regions where catastrophic conditions are forecast.
A spokesman for the RFS agreed crews didn’t have the manpower to respond to every call out.
‘As the fire front progressed throughout the morning, fire crews were actively engaged in the protection of human life and firefighter safety, and due to the sheer size and localised impact of the fire front, NSW RFS crews were unable to get to all properties as the fire impacted,’ the spokesman said.
At Mogo Zoo, staff spent New Year’s Eve dousing the grounds with hundreds of thousands of litres of water as the fires approached. They were unpredictable at that stage, shifting quickly as winds changed.
Flaming trees collapsed close to animal enclosures as the fire jumped over a stream on two sides of the grounds. The sky turned red and Mogo fell into complete darkness by noon, Mr Staples said.
Chad Staples (pictured) said zookeepers at Mogo fought bravely to protect the animals they considered ‘family’
The zoo’s six zebras, two rhinos, six giraffes, four gorillas, three tigers and six lions, among others, were all given shelter, some in Mr Staples own home on the property and others in their night dens.
‘Right now in my house there are animals of all descriptions in all the different rooms so they’re safe and protected,’ he said after the blaze swept through.
‘It was like Armageddon, it was black as midnight with tinges of red,’ Mr Staples said.
After the fires, the zoo arranged police escorts to get trucks through roadblocks to make urgent deliveries of hay, vegetables and water to keep the animals alive, he said.
Mr Staples said the zoo was saved because of good preparation in the lead up to the forecast catastrophic fire season.
He said their primary concern after the fire front swept through was potential power outages – which could cut power to the electric fences surrounding the enclosures of some of the more dangerous animals.
‘The last thing you want if you’re a firefighter is a lion on the loose,’ he said.
The 170-year-old town of Mogo was hit by some of the most ferocious fires seen yet this season. Homes, cars and buses reduced to shells, mangled metal and collapsed rubble.
Australia’s famous Mogo Zoo was directly in the line of fire as a 31,000-hectare blaze threatened the renowned tourist attraction