British Columbia

Animal rescue will take months to reopen after fire kills more than 60 animals

The lost animals included geckos, snakes, turtles, sugar gliders, guinea pigs, birds, and fish, among others. 

Surviving animals from fire in Surrey, B.C., are in foster homes and will be examined by a veterinarian

A green building with images of exotic animals on the front and a sign reading "Urban Safari Rescue Society."
Surrey Fire Services said a heating unit in one of the animals' cages caused the fire. The rescue society said it caught on fire during a power surge. (Urban Safari Rescue Society)

A Surrey, B.C, animal rescue non-profit says it will take months to reopen after a fire over the weekend damaged part of its facility and killed more than 60 animals. 

Staff at the Urban Safari Rescue Society say they lost around one-fifth of the animals they cared for in the Friday night fire. 

"It was numbing. It's heart wrenching to have cared for these animals for so long," said Pamala-Rose Combs, the vice president of the society. 

The animals that perished included geckos, snakes, turtles, sugar gliders, guinea pigs, birds and fish, among others. 

Combs said the building lost power on Friday night, which was not unusual for the facility. But at some point in the night the power came back on, causing a power surge. 


A heating unit in one of the animals' tanks caught on fire, according to Surrey Fire Services. The small fire smouldered until the next morning, when a staff member arrived and called for help. 

Assistant chief of operations Greg McRobbie said 18 firefighters were sent to the scene, where crews found "light to moderate" smoke, and worked to rescue the remaining animals. 

The surviving mammals are in temporary foster homes, mostly with staff and volunteers, said Combs. 

Other parts of the building that were not affected by the fire are now housing the surviving reptiles, which require warm temperatures. 

"Staff and volunteers … for them these are their pets. These are their companions. It's heartbreaking," said Combs. 

Combs said many of the surviving animals are still at risk of infection because of smoke inhalation. A veterinarian will examine the surviving animals and administer antibiotics. 

"They can't tell us if their lungs hurt. All we can do is look at them and do the best we can," she said.

Combs estimates it will take at least several months to get back up and running again. 

"That entire area is going to have to be gutted back to the studs and rebuilt ... I would say if we open for the summer, that's being extremely optimistic."

Financial toll 

Combs said the society will take a large financial blow for this incident. 

"We were just coming out of our COVID closures and we were starting to recover from that," said Combs. 

She said she is unsure how much of the repairs insurance will cover. 

The charity houses and cares for rescued exotic animals. They raise money by offering animal viewings, educational programs, home visits and community presentations. 

Combs said the society was just about to enter the busy season from March to June, when they get school bookings. She said the funds raised during this time usually carries the rescue through the slower months in the fall and winter. 


Michelle Gomez is a CBC writer in Vancouver. You can contact her at

With files from Ali Pitargue