Germany: Police Investigate Three Women After Devastating Zoo Fire

January 2, 2020 Updated: January 7, 2020

Three women are being investigated in Germany for causing a deadly fire that killed dozens of animals at a zoo in Germany. The women launched paper sky lanterns to mark the New Year, and its believed they floated into the zoo, setting an ape house alight.

Three suspects, a 60-year-old woman and her two daughters are being investigated in the city of Krefeld in West Germany for their alleged role in igniting a fire that killed more than 30 animals in a zoo, the criminal police chief, Gerd Hoppmann, said, AP reports.

The three family members are under investigation for suspected negligent arson, prosecutor Jens Frobel said. The suspect of such a case, if found guilty can be sentenced to jail for up to five years.

Sky lanterns are banned in most states in Germany, Deutsche Welle reports.

Gerd Hoppmann of the Krefeld criminal police told a press conference Thursday that witnesses reported seeing sky lanterns flying near the zoo shortly after midnight. He also said police had found sky lanterns on the ground that were half burned.

The three women introduced themselves to the officials and police telling them they had released three sky lanterns on New Year’s Eve. Police assumed that they were responsible for the deadly blaze at the zoo, Hoppmann said.

Police added that the women bought five sky lanterns online, unaware they were banned. Hoppmann, however, described the women as “very courageous” for reporting themselves voluntarily to the police.

The three women are accused of negligent arson, thus “for us, the case is largely cleared up,” Hoppmann added, media reported.

Although the sky lanterns were considered as the cause of the fire, police said they would examine other factors that might have played a role in igniting the fire according to The Associated Press.

The blaze on Friday night destroyed the entire ape house, killing five orangutans, several monkeys, two gorillas, and a chimpanzee. Birds and fruit bats could not escape the fire and perished as well, according to AP.

The Gorilla Garden, close to the destroyed ape house, did not burn, so the gorilla Kidogo and his family members survived.

The destroyed ape house was built in the 1970s and had no fire detectors. But a regular fire protection check had been passed a few months ago, the zoo said.

Zoo staff could not rescue the animals because the roof of the wooden petting zoo had already been destroyed, the zoo director said, The Associated Press reported. Although one elephant was slightly burned, zoo staff managed to rescue all the other animals.

The zoo appreciated all the offers of help but said in a statement:” We are still in shock and cannot yet say exactly if and where help is needed.”