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Animal sanctuary owner saves rhino from fire

Other animals safe, sanctuary saw huge loss
Posted at 8:11 PM, Apr 25, 2017

In excruciating pain, twenty percent of an animal sanctuary owner's body from his arms, legs to even his face is burned after he went through a wall of fire to save his rhino in Collier County. 

"You can see a distinctive line where my shorts were," said Donovan Smith.

Smith shared one of the scariest moments of his life.

"There were flames you know 30, 40 even some places 70 feet tall," said Smith

Smith was describing the wall of fire surrounding his 42 acre animal sanctuary, Ngala Wildlife Preserve, in Naples.

"Everything was on fire," said Smith.

He and his staff rushed to get the 45 animals to safety from big cats, to giraffes and his rhino Walter.

Government regulations mandated training for evacuations. Smith even purchased the right enclosures but nothing could prepare them for this.

"They are built to withstand a fire or hurricane or whatever but this was a catastrophic event. When have you heard of three fires converging on one property that's right in the middle," said Smith. 

They managed to get the other animals out but Walter was trapped in the heart of it. Smith hailed some firefighters for help. He described jumping onto a truck, the firefighters in protective gear, Donovan in shorts and a shirt.

"It really hurt so bad," said Smith.

But he could only think of Walter. Crews watered down the enclosure.

"I calmed him down, I called Walter he came to me and I kept him away from the burning fire," said Smith.

His beloved Rhino came out unharmed, but not Smith. His burns were so severe they flew him to Tampa General Hospital's burn unit.

But he said he would take the same risk in a heartbeat.

Smith's attitude unscathed, he said he hopes his experience could help others.

"Bad things happen people get hurt and If my story does anything for people. There's things that bring us down everyday but they don't need to let it. It's a choice," said Smith.