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A tractor-trailer carrying three African elephants caught fire on a busy Tennessee interstate

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Chattanooga, Tennessee Firefighters had a moment they'll "never forget" on Interstate 24 early Monday morning. The 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.

Firefighters and deputies with the Dade County Sheriff's Department, both responded. Dispatchers warned fire crews to cut their sirens before they got on the 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.

We spoke with Dedrick Hicks, a truck driver who saw the bizarre moment firsthand.

"They were just on the side of the road eating grass. They weren't panicking or freaking out. We see a lot of things in trucking but it was really a sight to see. Three elephants on the side of the road...yea this is definitely #1."
Dedrick Hicks

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.

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 in the afternoon.

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The elephants are part of an encounter experience at the Ranch where guests can give them a bath and "manicure."

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."
Rachel Mathews

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.

Our affiliate News Channel 9 in Chattanooga, TN contributed to this story.

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