Two months after an electrical fire destroyed its main clinic and killed dozens of animals it had rescued, Red Creek Wildlife Center has reopened, and has two construction projects on deck this year that will allow the nonprofit to treat wildlife better than ever before, official said.
The rescue and rehabilitation facility near Schuylkill Haven cares for about 4,000 injured and abandoned animals annually, but it had to close after the Dec. 5 blaze.
On Feb. 6 it began accepting wildlife again and is caring for them in a building that a decade ago served as Red Creek’s main clinic. Before that, the structure was the home of founder and director Peggy Hentz, who donated it to the nonprofit. Recent electrical work and the acquisition of new food, medicine, caging and supplies has allowed it to be used again.
The timing of the reopening is crucial, Hentz said, because Red Creek soon will get its yearly influx of baby animals needing help, with bunnies and squirrels already being born locally.
The Wayne Township facility is accepting all species of Pennsylvania wildlife except for waterfowl and birds susceptible to avian flu, which are being treated by Helping Hands Wildlife Center near Pottsville. Since reopening, Red Creek has worked on several screech owls and cottontail rabbits along with a Cooper’s hawk and other birds.
“It feels good to be fully functional again,” Hentz said.
The current setup is temporary, though, as Red Creek intends to break ground in the next few weeks on a building to replace the one destroyed in the fire. That structure will be used for animal drop-offs by the public, admissions and stabilizations, and should open by the end of spring or early summer.
In addition, Red Creek hopes this spring to start work on a new clinic that will be four times bigger than its last one, opening by mid-fall.
Both projects will take place on the same property and were planned before the fire because the organization had outgrown its old building. It has gone from treating about 1,000 animals annually to quadruple that amount, Hentz said.
Insurance from the fire will pay for most of the first project, and Red Creek will soon start a capital campaign to raise donations for the new clinic.
Already, though, the center got some good news, as an anonymous donor said they would donate up to $1 million as a challenge grant if Red Creek can raise $500,000 on its own. With that money it could pay for the clinic and put aside funds for future repairs, Hentz said.
In the larger building the organization will be able to treat even more animals more effectively, she said.
Red Creek has cared for about 60,000 animals since it opened in 1991, Hentz estimated. It has five employees and about 25 volunteers and interns.
The December fire was ruled accidental by state police, and Hentz said it was started by a malfunctioned power strip with several reptile heating pads plugged into it.
That trailer had housed 41 creatures, including turtles, birds of prey, songbirds, porcupines, opossums and a snake. The animals were being rehabilitated for release back to the wild or were unfit for release and served as educational animals, some for decades.
All the wildlife inside was killed, but 12 patient animals and 14 resident animals being housed elsewhere on the property, including eagles, deer, foxes, owls and raccoons, were not harmed.
No people were injured.
The loss of the animals will always be difficult to accept, Hentz said, but the center could not afford to take time off and got back to work immediately afterward.
The animal rescue work and the education and certification Red Creek provides to wildlife capture and transport volunteers throughout the state were too important to stop, she said.
“We definitely grieved, but then we had to move forward,” she said.
The fire spurred an amazing response, Red Creek officials said, as the public and other animal rescue groups quickly offered donations and much-needed materials.
“The outpouring of support has been overwhelming,” Hentz said. “Donations came from all over the country. People really helped us.”
Among the animals lost in the fire were Patch, a box turtle that came to Red Creek in 1994, and Phoenix, a peregrine falcon that had been there 18 years. Both were used in countless school and environmental programs over the years, Hentz said.
Red Creek is adding new ambassador animals to use for those programs, including Wink, a one-eyed opossum the facility recently helped recover from a jaw injury.
Lynn Dierwechter, Helping Hands director, said Red Creek’s survival is vital for the many animals it saves, including raptors such as hawks, eagles and owls that not many centers in the region are able to rehabilitate.
Red Creek is also important for the wildlife rehabbers it helps get started and provides continuing education to, said Dierwechter, who was trained by Hentz trained 24 years ago.
Dierwechter is therefore thankful that Red Creek received so much public support after the fire.
“What a blessing that the community stepped up for Red Creek,” she said. “It would be hard without them.”
To donate to Red Creek Wildlife Center or its upcoming capital campaign, go to its website at redcreekwildlifecenter.com.
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