Sandra Salinas led two potential donors into a large, half-cylinder building on the Gilcrease Nature Sanctuary’s eight-acre campus on Monday afternoon.
Inside, brilliant macaws clung to chain-link fencing and watched their visitors. Salinas grabbed a plastic bowl of fruit and nuts and held a peanut through the fence.
"Who wants a cookie?" she asked, and the birds, which can live more than 80 years, flocked to the treat.
As the birds plucked peanuts and dates from her hand, the sanctuary’s executive director tried to sound upbeat as she explained to the two donors the plans to make the facility an elaborate educational center.
But the past few days have tested Salinas and the employees of the sanctuary near Durango Road and Grand Teton Drive. A Friday morning fire tore through wooden structures at the preserve, killing more than 150 birds.
"I’m trying to keep my composure," Salinas said after the donors left.
"Before the fire, you would walk by and hear birds saying hello to you."
"Now it’s all quiet."
Also killed in the blaze was Zapatos, the German shepherd who watched over the sanctuary and its animals.
The dog was barking in alarm as the fire ripped through the buildings that housed the birds. Zapatos woke up Carlos Gilcrease, who lives on-site and is the son of the sanctuary’s namesake.
"He’s our hero," Salinas said of Zapatos.
But while Gilcrease phoned the fire department, Zapatos ran into the burning building and perished.
"We don’t know why he did it," Salinas said. "I can only say that he was trying to help some of the birds inside."
Clark County Fire Department investigators ruled the fire accidental. Department spokesman Scott Allison said investigators think the cause was electrical in nature and started near the ceiling of one of the buildings.
The blaze spread to the sanctuary’s rehabilitation building, a wooden structure that houses about 30 ill or injured animals at any given time.
Investigators valued the loss in the fire at $100,000. That includes the value of the buildings and the birds, Allison said.
The fire has forced the preserve to cancel more than 100 school field trips because it will be closed for some time, Salinas said. She did not have an estimate of when it will reopen.
The sanctuary was in the initial phases of redesigning the property into an educational center when the blaze struck.
It recently received a $4 million grant, $500,000 of which was to be used directly for renovations. Architects had been hired to develop the sanctuary’s cages into a modern aviary, which would have been more resistant to flames than the wooden buildings.
Those plans will continue, Salinas said.
The Gilcrease Nature Sanctuary houses about 1,500 abandoned animals, including parrots, ostriches and goats. A few animals are endangered.
Salinas said she and the other workers become very attached to the animals. She hired a trauma intervention specialist to help those workers cope with what happened.
Donations of cash and material goods are being accepted on-site at the preserve.
The animals will be buried in a pet cemetery and will be remembered at a memorial planned for the weekend of April 24-25. The preserve will be hosting an arts and crafts fair .
Contact reporter Lawrence Mower at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-383-0440.