Waffles the giraffe was a showstopper at Roer's Zoofari, with an adorably long tongue almost always dangling from his mouth.
Camille Headen would go to the zoo regularly to see Waffles. Tuesday she took flowers, hours after learning that Waffles and another giraffe that hadn't yet been named were killed when their barn caught fire Monday.
Some animal rights groups have questioned, even before the blaze, whether the mammals belong at roadside zoos.
"It’s devastating,” Headen said. “He was such a joy to be around."
The zoo's owner, Vanessa Roer, said the giraffes were kept inside of a barn that caught fire at about 5:30 p.m. Monday. By the time crews got there, it was too late.
"I know what Waffles meant to so many people, so many children in our community,” Roer said. “I know we're all grieving together and we'll get through this together."
Roadside zoos like Roer's Zoofari are inspected by the Department of Agriculture. In 2016, a USDA inspector wrote the owners of the zoo up for not having enough overhead shade for the animals outside.
The owners said they fixed that right away and were never given a formal citation.
The president of a national animal welfare organization, however, said that that is not enough oversight to protect the animals.
“It raises the question, is it suitable to have these animals in this climate, with this kind of facility?" Wayne Pacelle, the president of Animal Wellness Action, said. "They're indoors because it's still winter in this part of the world and these animals don't do well with the cold. That's why they have to be in a barn, which creates its own set of risks."
Roer said her facility is safe and that they properly care for all of their animals.
“Since we took over the zoo, we've done a number of improvements within the zoo grounds, including new exhibits and upgrades to the electrical and water infrastructure," Roer said.
No other animals were injured in the fire, Fairfax County Fire and Rescue said.
Roer's owners said the zoo will be closed until Friday while the cause of the fire is under investigation.