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Rhode Island bird sanctuary vows to rebuild after last week’s fire leaves 96 animals dead

About 90 birds were killed after fire swept through Foster Parrots sanctuary in Hopkinton, R.I., on Thursday.
About 90 birds were killed after fire swept through Foster Parrots sanctuary in Hopkinton, R.I., on Thursday.

A Hopkinton, R.I., bird sanctuary home to parrots and other exotic species is vowing to rebuild after a four-alarm blaze tore through its facility last week, destroying a third of the building and killing 96 animals.

“It’s a heartbreak,” Danika Oriol-Morway, the former director of The New England Exotic Wildlife Sanctuary and a current member of its board of directors, said as her voice trailed off.

Oriol-Morway said mostly parrots died in the blaze on April 1, but the sanctuary lost a number of Patagonian Cavies as well. The fire, which broke out shortly after 5 a.m., was sparked when a fan in the building’s heating system seized up, according to Rhode Island Deputy State Fire Marshal James Given.

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Oriol-Morway said the Sanctuary, operated by Foster Parrots, had “done everything right” in preparing for a fire with an early alert system in place, fire extinguishers available, and keeping the building up to code. That preparation likely saved many animals’ lives she said, as the fire department was notified of the blaze before a 911 call, and was able to contain the fire to one section of the building.

Now, with damages still unclear, Foster Parrots is looking to rebuild, but will remain closed to the public for at least several months, Oriol-Morway said. Rebuilding is “already in the plans” but will require a lot of fund-raising, Oriol-Morway said. She said Foster Parrots will work to construct a fire-proof building because “despite how prepared you are the safest guarantee is to make a building that can’t catch fire.”

More than 90 birds were killed at the Foster Parrots sanctuary in Hopkinton, R.I., after a four-alarm fire swept through the property.
More than 90 birds were killed at the Foster Parrots sanctuary in Hopkinton, R.I., after a four-alarm fire swept through the property.

Before plans for rebuilding can be crafted, Foster Parrots has to work to “get everything back in stable working condition,” Oriol-Morway said. The building doesn’t have hot water and many other utilities are also offline, she said.

Foster Parrots was founded in 1989 by Marc Johnson, who acquired his first parrot while teaching pottery in Cambridge. The physical space in Hope Valley, known as The New England Exotic Wildlife Sanctuary, was established on a 15-acre plot of land in 2007, the site of a factory chicken farm, according to Foster Parrots’ website.

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Oriol-Morway said Foster Parrots is a “really important place” and there is “no other place like it in New England.” Foster Parrots is a “lifetime sanctuary for parrots and other exotic animals,” she said. Parrots are not a domesticated species and as a result “don’t last in one home that long,” Oriol-Morway said.

Part of the sanctuary’s work is bringing in parrots who have no other option and providing a space for the “birds to be birds.” Parrots are difficult animals to cohabitate with, she said, and some of the birds adopted are “not candidates to ever be in the home.”

Parrots are “not a pet,” she said. “[They’re] wild animals.”

Charlie McKenna can be reached at charlie.mckenna@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @charliemckenna9.