Zoo fire spares statue of St. Francis of Assisi, patron saint of animals

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(The Daily Advertiser) A weekend fire destroyed the train and depot at Zoosiana, but owner George Oldenburg says St. Francis of Assisi protected his animals.

The fire attracted at least a dozen engines from across Acadiana to the zoo in Broussard late Saturday night, Oldenburg said. He saw about 14 when he arrived on scene.

“When I got the call … of course I ran over there,” the owner said. “It was unbelievable. The flames were two stories high.”

The flames destroyed the train and the depot, where it is parked at night, Oldenburg said.

“Seats melted, paint burned off the engine — complete loss,” he said.

Also destroyed were the concession stand and a “museum-quality butterfly display,” including a mount that was more than 100 years old, he said. 

The heat was so intense it melted toilets and caused parts of the slab to explode, Oldenburg said.

But there was one thing the flames didn’t touch.

Oldeburg found something amid burned grass Sunday, about 2 feet away from the depot — a small, concrete statue of St. Francis of Assisi, the patron saint of animals.

It had been a gift from former coworkers when Oldenburg made the leap to buy the zoo in 2002.

He’d placed the statue in the garden outside his office, which was in the depot building at the time. 

It had remained there since, and he found it as they began to clean up debris.

“Everything burned all around it,” he said, but the statue bore no scorch marks or anything.

Oldenburg found meaning in this and credits the saint for saving his animals.

“I did not lose one animal,” he said. “St. Francis did that.”

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