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NEWCASTLE, Calif. (KTXL) – More than 40 animals have died after a barn caught fire at an animal sanctuary in Newcastle.

At the Enchanted Forest Exotic Animal Sanctuary in Newcastle, charred wood lie where a barn once stood.

A barn that housed dozens of surrendered geese, ducks and tortoises, but for owner Melyssa Descovich they were family.

“It meant everything to me,” she told FOX40. “A lot of these animals came from crisis. They came from fires, they came from abuse cases. All of the animals co-existed, and they loved each other and they all loved the public.”

Sunday, Descovich woke up to a real-life nightmare.

Flames shooting out of the farmhouse.

Investigators say the barn fire, whose cause is still unknown, started at around 3:30 Sunday morning.

“This is the most devastating thing that has ever happened to me in my life. This is the worst time of my life,” Descovich said.

A neighbor spotted the flames overnight and called Descovich. 

By the time her husband got there it was too late. 

“I could just tell by the tone of his voice that it wasn’t going to be good news,” Descocih explained. “He told me that there was nothing to save. There was absolutely no way for him to save anything in the barn.”

Fourteen years ago Descovich opened a tortoise rescue, but when the pandemic started last March she discovered a wider calling.

A friend donated land and Descovich got to work taking in all kind of animals in need.

She says Sunday’s fire killed 40 different animals.

“Innocent animals that came to us because they came from crisis. They were here for sanctuary. That’s why we’re a sanctuary. They’re here for a safe place to live,” Descovich said.

And though they can’t be replaced, Descovich is vowing to pen a new chapter in their memory.

“We will always remember all of these animals. We’ve already built a memorial. It’s our purpose in life and we are going to keep doing it. We’re going to move forward,” she said.

Cal Fire and the Placer County Sheriff’s Office are investigating the fire. 

The property owner says arson is not being ruled out. 

If you’d like to donate to the sanctuary during this difficult time, you can do so via Venmo @TheEnchantedForest.