Wildfire spooks chimps at Washington sanctuary

SEATTLE (AP) - The seven chimps at Chimpanzee Sanctuary Northwest near Cle Elum are fine, but they seemed bewildered by the smoke in the air and changes in their routine brought by a wildfire that burned within a couple hundred feet of their building, a spokeswoman said.

"They definitely know there's weirdness happening," Outreach Director Diana Goodrich said Tuesday. "There are still fire trucks here and they're curious about them."

The chimps are OK, she said.

"We're trying to not let our upset feelings or panic transfer to them," Goodrich said.

The sanctuary has a six-person staff and the humans were advised to evacuate Monday as the wildfire spread rapidly through grass, brush and trees on the east side of the Cascades about 75 miles east of Seattle.

Goodrich and her husband, Director of Operations J.B. Mulcahy, decided to stay overnight with the chimps.

"It would be very time-consuming to evacuate the chimpanzees," she said. It's not easy to get them into transport cages.

"The firefighters were incredible," Goodrich said. "They were also here all night. As late as 11 or 12, they were still trying to fight back fire."

The fire burned a couple of trees within sight of the building and some of the grass in a 2-acre outdoor area for the chimps.

"Most of the chimps were able to come down and go to sleep," except one, Goodrich said. "Jody was looking out the window, I think bewildered."

The power went off, and they were unable to pump water from the well, so a couple of other employees returned with water for the chimps, she said.

On Tuesday morning they were installing a generator to power the water pump and to put electricity into the building. They needed to lock the chimps in rooms while the rest of their area was hosed down.

"Our building is a large playroom and four interconnected rooms," Goodrich said. "We never go into same space with the chimps."

The 26-acre sanctuary is a nonprofit supported by donations. The chimps have been pets or used in entertainment or medical research. They are not associated with the chimps at nearby Central Washington University in Ellensburg that are noted for their sign-language skills.

The sanctuary is not open to the public, but it's starting a visitor program, Goodrich said.

(Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

8/14/2012 9:47:14 AM (GMT -7:00)
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