Reindeer evacuated from Santa grotto fire
Two reindeer had to be evacuated from a Santa's grotto today when a huge blaze took hold at a theme park.
Thousands of children were turned away from Chessington World of Adventures Resort in Surrey when it was forced to close just days before Christmas as dozens of firefighters worked "exceptionally hard" to tackle the flames.
London Fire Brigade said it is investigating the cause of the fire which started at Creaky Cafe shortly after 8.30am.
No staff, visitors or animals were injured, a Chessington spokesman said.
Eight fire engines, four from London Fire Brigade and four from Surrey Fire and Rescue Services, were used at the peak of the blaze.
Visitors, who described seeing billowing smoke and "a hell of a lot of flames", said they were devastated to miss out on a day of festive fun.
Paul Sharpe, 41, a roof tiler from Maidstone in Kent, saw events unfold with his wife Paula and two boys, Jack, nine, and Ellis, six.
"We saw smoke billowing and a lot of people from Chessington running towards it," he said.
"We saw lots of flames and as I was out here I heard one of the Chessington staff say it was in the grotto.
"We went up to the glass roof at the top of the hotel and there was a hell of a lot of flames."
Craig Carter, a station manager for the London brigade, said crews arrived quickly on scene.
"The crews worked exceptionally hard early on in the incident to bring this fire under control," he said.
Firefighters worked closely with staff from the theme park which was not open to members of public at the time of the call, Mr Carter said.
Chessington workers were evacuated and "implemented well-rehearsed contingency plans".
Asked about the size and ferocity of the fire, he said: "At the moment, whilst we have got operations still ongoing at the scene, it's difficult for me to ascertain the exact extent of the damage.
"None of the animals were evacuated, bar two reindeer, interestingly enough. So I can confirm that Santa's reindeer are safe and well and ready to be collected on Christmas Eve."
In a statement on its website, Chessington said: "Due to unforeseen circumstances, Chessington will be closed today.
"If you had tickets booked for today they will be valid for another day in the future. Further updates will follow."