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Blaze Chars Florida's Gatorland Theme Park

Firefighters extinguish an early morning structure fire at the Gatorland Zoo in Orlando, Fla., early Monday, Nov. 6, 2006. The fire destroyed the gift shop and office complex at the 110-acre alligator theme park and preserve. (AP Photo/El Nuevo Dia, Reinhold Matay)
AP/El Nuevo Dia, Reinhold Matay
A three-alarm fire tore through one of central Florida's oldest attractions Monday, killing up to four animals but injuring no one at Gatorland.

Tim Williams, the park's director of media production, said Gatorland's alligators were believed to have hidden safely in a lake, but the fire may have claimed two 5-foot long crocodiles and two 8-foot pythons kept in a holding pen near the gift shop.

"There were some animals that were lost in the fire, some exotic snakes, I'm told, and a few rare crocodiles," Orange County Fire and Rescue Battalion Chief Vince Preston told CBS Radio News.

The blaze, reported at 5:55 a.m., consumed the park's gift shop, entrance and ticket booth, Williams said.

"Initial crews arrived on the scene and had heavy fire," Preston said of the gift shop. "It had already been through the roof; it was obvious that this was going to be an extended operation."

Preston said it took about two hours to get the blaze under control. Crews were able to save buildings at two ends of the 110-acre attraction, which housed administrative offices and park records.

"It's an institutional landmark here in Orlando. It's one of the oldest theme parks in Florida. It was actually started in 1949. As a community, it's somewhat of a shock," Preston said.

The park attracts about 400,000 tourists each year. It features exhibitions of people wrestling gators, a "jumparoo" show where the big reptiles leap for food, and "up close" encounters where guests can hold snakes, scorpions, spiders and birds.

The park has a couple thousand animals, Williams estimated, from reptiles to bears to emus.

Williams said it would be months before everything was back to normal, but the park was working on plans to get guests back in as soon as possible. He said all of the shows could still be staged, but they would have to create another entrance for guests.

The fire destroyed the park's main entrance: a giant, iconic concrete gator head, whose upper jaw is now charred, its formerly white teeth blackened with soot, its mouth full of smoldering debris. The mural facade around it, which had just been given a fresh coat of paint in a $1.5 million overhaul, was torn and burnt. The cypress and palm trees lining the outside were singed and limp.

"This park is like an old alligator. Gators fight, they get scarred up, they get beat up, they tear each other up, but they're resilient," Williams said. "This park's been here for 57 years. We're not going anywhere. It's the alligator capitol of the world. It's got a few scars and smudges on it, but we'll clean it up."