Fire hits Orlando's Gatorland; venerable attraction damaged, at least 3 animals dead

Monday, November 6th 2006, 6:00 pm
By: News On 6

ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) A fire early Monday destroyed a section of Gatorland, one of Florida's oldest tourist attractions, and killed as many as three pythons and crocodiles.

The blaze badly damaged the gift shop, entrance and some administrative offices. The giant concrete gator head that serves as the main entrance was charred, its white teeth blackened with soot, its mouth full of debris.

Two 8 foot-long pythons kept in a holding pen near the gift shop died in the blaze, as did a 5 foot crocodile, said Gatorland spokeswoman Michelle Harris. Another 5 foot crocodile managed to survive by dipping into a pond, she said.

The 110 acre park opened in 1949 and attracts about 400,000 tourists each year. It features 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.

In all, Gatorland has a few thousand animals, said Tim Williams, the park's director of media production.

The cause of the fire was under investigation.

Officials will try to reopen the park as soon as possible, but it was unclear how quick that might be, Harris said. The gator mouth entrance may be salvageable.

``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.''