ORLANDO, Fla. – A screaming peacock awoke Jim Bronzo early Monday morning to flames that devoured his home and 33 animals at the Second Chance Wildlife Sanctuary in east Orange County, Fla.
"I looked out the window and saw the orange flames . I had no clothes on. I had no phone," he said. "I screamed out, 'Somebody help me, somebody please help me.' I felt so helpless."
Orange County firefighters arrived about 1:30 a.m. to find Bronzo's two-story house burning at 805 Baron Road, a 2.5-acre muddy plot where he cares for 350 animals, including bearded dragons, snakes, llamas, goats, dogs and other orphaned critters.
A small raccoon named Camille who often sleeps on Bronzo's bed with four dogs was feared lost in the blaze but was found about 8 hours later, fur singed but safe.
Three of Bronzo's dogs died. An African tortoise, a Burmese python, a carpet python and four iguanas which lived under the house also are dead.
First responders were concerned about driving heavy firefighting vehicles onto the refuge's muddy grounds but were invited into a neighbor's fenced property to blast the blaze with water.
Flames destroyed the home before firefighters tamped them down after a 40-minute fight. No humans were hurt.
The Florida Bureau of Fire and Arson Investigations was trying to determine the cause.
"We feel terrible," said the neighbor, Brian Ramphal, whose wife called 9-1-1.
He said they were awakened by their own barking dogs.
Jennifer Foster, a friend of Bronzo, was among dozens of animal-rescue volunteers who showed up at the wildlife refuge shortly after sunrise to offer help.
"He's got a lot of friends, he'll be OK," said Foster, holding a carrier with a now-homeless guinea pig. "But he's going to need a lot of help."
Friends created a gofundme page Monday for Bronzo, setting the goal at $200,000 to rebuild his house and the sanctuary.
It read, "Jim Bronzo has dedicated his life to saving animals. All animals, including those no one else will take . llamas, peacocks, pigs and so many more. Early this morning it was those very peacocks Jim saved that saved him . He is blessed to have gotten out alive while trying to save his dogs and cats. Dozens of animals perished. The entire structure is gone. Jim was unable to have insurance on the contents of the property and it is a total loss. 38+ years, his life's work. Please help him and our community rebuild this amazing, nurturing and safe sanctuary!"
Sanctuary volunteers were stunned by what they saw as the sun rose.
"When I came this morning, I didn't see a house," said Josh Howe, who helps out at the refuge three days a week.
Laura Johnson of Florida Little Dog Rescue slogged through the sanctuary mud to help Howe and Foster move guinea pigs and turtles into transport carriers.
"We've worked with Jim for years," she said as a Muscovy duck pecked at her leg. "We're going to help him out with the guinea pigs and turtles . for as long as he needs us."
Bronzo works as a nuisance wildlife trapper and established his sanctuary in 1985 as an alternative to euthanizing the animals he was called to remove.
Wildlife advocate Katrina Shadrix, who ran for Seminole County commissioner last year, posted a Facebook message urging people to help Bronzo by donating to the wildlife sanctuary.
"Jim has dedicated his life to saving animals and he almost lost his life last night," she said on the social-media site. "I met and knew the animals who perished in the fire . This is horrible."
Among Bronzo's most pressing needs are a cell phone, hay and food for the surviving animals, and a backhoe to clear away the fire debris and bury the dead animals.