As wildfires ravaged San Diego two weeks ago, Birch Aquarium at Scripps provided a much-welcomed respite for evacuees, families, and even firefighters needing a break from the tragedy.
The aquarium re-opened after four days of closure on Oct. 26, and offered free admission Friday, Saturday, and Sunday for visitors. For the first two days, the aquarium also included Haunted Birch Aquarium activities. Visitors were encouraged to donate their ticket price to the San Diego chapter of the American Red Cross.
More than 6,500 people visited the aquarium over those three days, many first-time visitors. The number of guests nearly reached the level seen during busy summer months. The atmosphere inside was happy and hopeful, as families were able to spend quality time together for the first time in days. On Friday and Saturday, dozens turned up in costumes and enjoyed trick-or-treating, crafts, a slime lab, live animal interactions, and other activities in addition to aquarium exhibits.
One family came from Jamul looking for a place where their children could be out of the smoke for a day. Others were evacuees who had been living in hotels for the week and just happy to do something different. Many expressed their gratitude toward the aquarium for opening its doors.
On Sunday, six firefighters from New Mexico visited the aquarium during a break from fighting the fires in San Diego. Visitors erupted in applause and cheers when the crew was acknowledged during the Kelp Tank Diving Show.
“It was wonderful to hear such positive feedback from our visitors,” said Nigella Hillgarth, Birch Aquarium at Scripps executive director. “Scripps and Birch Aquarium are thankful to have had this opportunity to give back to the San Diego community, and our thoughts are with those still suffering from the tragedy.”