CHATTANOOGA, Tenn. — UPDATE:
We learned shortly after 9pm Monday night that the three African elephants Mikia, Lovey, and Lou have safely arrived to their winter destination in Sarasota, Florida.
Here is the statement from their owners:
"On Sunday November 19th Makia, Lou, and Lovie departed French Lick and Wilstem to head to their winter home in Florida. While heading Eastbound on I-24 after descending Mt. Eagle between Nashville and Chattanooga TN, a malfunction on the semi-tractor caused a fire to ignite under the hood. The owners immediately pulled off to the side of the road, came to a stop, and were assisted in attempting to put the fire out by a kind citizen. Meanwhile they called 911 and immediately removed Makia, Lou, and Lovie as a precaution from their trailer and took them to safety. Local emergency services arrived promptly. They were able to extinguish the fire, save the elephant’s trailer, and aid in the safety of the owners and elephants during the situation. The fire was contained to the cab of the semi-tractor. The elephants were unharmed and able to be transported via their trailer by an independent semi-tractor to their winter home. We want to take the opportunity to thank the wonderful emergency personnel that assisted with the situation. Makia, Lou, and Lovie remained calm. Their behavior, as witnessed by the personnel, speaks volumes to the love and care they receive on a daily basis since orphaned and rescued by their owners. Wilstem is grateful that no one was injured. Makia, Lou, and Lovie are now at their winter home grazing! Thank you for all the concern, thoughts, and prayers we have received. It’s quite obvious that these girls have touched thousands of hearts. Rest assured that their safety is our top priority. We look forward to their return to Wilstem in March. Audrey Brames Wilstem Communications"
The elephants who waited patiently on the side of I-24 Monday morning while crews tried to find them another ride, were on their way to "winter" in Sarasota, Florida.
Jerry Fuhs is the president of Wilstem Ranch in French Lick, Indiana. He says the three African elephants, named Mikia, Lovey, and Lou, spend nine months a year in Indiana, and the remaining months in Florida.
Fuhs expected them to make it to the Sunshine state late Monday afternoon.
The elephants are part of an encounter experience at the Ranch where guests can give them a bath and "manicure."
We spoke with Dedrick Hicks, a truck driver who saw the bizarre moment firsthand:
Rachel Mathews, PETA's Foundation Associate Director of Animal Law Enforcement, released a statement on the situation Monday afternoon:
"While elephants in nature walk up to 30 miles a day, animal exhibitors chain them up inside cramped trailers to haul them across the country, putting their lives at risk. Circus trains have crashed, animals have been trapped inside overturned trailers, elephants have been used as living car jacks, tigers have been left without water while their handlers slept nearby, and one tiger this summer was shot after she escaped at a truck stop. This total disregard for animals' well-being is why PETA urges everyone to stay away from all circuses and roadside zoos where exotic animals are on display."
Chattanooga Firefighters had a moment they'll "never forget" on Interstate 24 early Monday morning.
The Chattanooga Fire Department says a tractor-trailer carrying three African elephants caught fire on I-24 near the Georgia state line at about 2 a.m.
Chattanooga Firefighters and deputies with the Dade County Sheriff's Department, both responded. Dispatchers warned fire crews to cut their sirens before they got to scene, saying "I really don’t want to spook these things.”
Chief Morgan said the tractor was on fire, but the trailer was not. The owners got the elephants safely out of the trailer and gave them some hay to munch on while firefighters put the fire out.
Chief Morgan said the elephants were huge, but well behaved.
With the fire out, the owners made some calls to get another tractor to their location.
After that, they continued on their way to Sarasota, Florida.
Our firefighters did not take any photos, for fear of spooking them with the flash. However, a viewer who wishes not to be named captured a good shot of the pachyderms. She says she was on the arriving ambulance and from a safe distance away.