Published: 12:10, 17 September 2020
| Updated: 17:36, 17 September 2020
A red squirrel has been found dead following a huge fire which ignited at an animal park, bosses have revealed.
As many as 200 visitors to the Wildwood Trust, which is located between Canterbury and Herne Bay, were evacuated after flames spread from a log burner at about 3.30pm on Monday.
Crews in several fire engines spent more than four hours battling the blaze - the first in the animal park's 21-year history - as thick plumes of smoke rose to the sky.
But now the facility has announced that two breeding enclosures for endangered red squirrels were destroyed by the flames, killing one of the rare creatures.
Wildwood's head of conservation, Laura Gardner, said: “This has really set our conservation work with red squirrels back because we won’t be able to breed as many this year.”
The fire service confirmed on Tuesday the blaze started accidentally, after embers from a log burner in an area out-of-bounds to the public spread to nearby outbuildings.
A member of staff managed to save a second red squirrel - one of about nine at the park - from a burning enclosure.
No other animals were harmed during the fire, as dormice, barn owls, and all inhabitants of the park's reptile house were swiftly evacuated.
Staff were also on standby to move reindeer and wild cats.
The blaze also destroyed a volunteer area, containing several materials and tools worth more than £800.
Wildwood Trust's Laura Metcalfe said: “Many of our volunteers were only just starting to come back in after lockdown.
"Now we have to send them back again, at a time when we need them more than ever.”
On Tuesday, the park's director general, Paul Whitfield, said an internal investigation into the fire is being conducted.
He added that changes will "definitely" be made as he admitted that "a couple of things could have been done slightly better" when the fire brigade arrived.
The trust has launched an urgent appeal for people to donate replacement items or much-needed funds. via the charity’s amazon wishlist. Cash donations will also be welcomed.