In the spring of 2022, New Mexico was hit hard by wildfires. They affected large parts of highly populated areas around Santa Fe. The fires burned through thousands of acres of land, beginning on April 22. The fires caused many to evacuate and leave their homes to burn.
People read a lot of bad news about what was lost in the fires, but among the sadness were stories of positivity. Pet and wildlife rescues gave people a glimmer of hope. With lots of work, luck, and love, many beautiful animals were saved, and−spoiler alert−all these stories have happy endings.
A Scary Situation
On April 22, two separate controlled fires turned into the worst fire in New Mexico history. The wildfire scorched nearly 320,000 acres. The fires mainly covered parts of the state with mixed populations, mostly Hispanic and wilderness areas. The fire’s southernmost boundary was just west of Las Vegas, New Mexico.
The wildfires also extended north in a highly populated area near villages like Mora, Rociada, Upper Rociada, Gascon, and Cleveland. It took a while to contain the fires that destroyed over 880 residences and other structures. Many animals were left to fend for themselves, but volunteers stepped up to help.
Emerald Lost His Way
When Tina Heffner adopted her stray kitten, she decided to name him Emerald because of his stunning green eyes. Heffner was in love with her little kitten and never imagined that he would be lost for a month in the middle of the biggest fire in New Mexico’s history.
When he emerged from the unusual experience, his eyes were stained black from the soot. Rescuers and Heffner wondered if Emerald’s eyes would ever return to their former green shade. Luckily, his eyes have recovered, but everyone wonders how the little kitten survived in the nasty smoke for so long.
Nowhere to Be Found
Heffner lived on 13 acres in the small community of Encinal, New Mexico, an area that was hardest hit by the fires. Her property had two houses, an RV, fruit trees, and plots for raising vegetables. Heffner’s parents, brother, Emerald, and another adopted cat, Smokey, also lived on the property.
Her mom had just had surgery, and her father needed oxygen, so Heffner’s family was forced to evacuate a week before the fire closed in. While they were packing to leave, Heffner couldn’t find the cats. It was chaotic trying to pack everything up, and Heffner had to leave the cats behind.
She Feared the Worst
Heffner thought she would never see her sweet Emerald again. She and her family had to move three times, from camping at a state park to staying in a Las Vegas Airbnb and parking their RV at a relative’s home. Heffner’s neighbors were able to leave food and water for the cats for a few days.
Eventually, everyone in the area had to leave. Heffner and her family were finally able to return to their home on May 18, 2022. They were relieved to find that their house had not been burned, even though the flames came extremely close and caused extensive damage to the property.
Emerald Came Home
When Heffner got home, Smokey showed up right away. However, there was no sign of Emerald until four days later. The little cat came wandering home, covered in “filmy oily stuff” and sprinkled with ash. Heffner bathed Emerald, and he seemed to be fine besides being underweight.
Emerald was eating, breathing, and drinking regularly. His eyes eventually returned to their original color, but one thing did change about the kitten. Heffner said Emerald was much more comfortable around people than he used to be. The scary situation must have given him a new appreciation for his loving family and their cuddles.
“Are You Here for the Cat?”
On May 20, a feisty, orange six-week-old kitten was found nearly lifeless by firefighters in the middle of a road. She had been separated from her mom and barely survived when she was rescued. Summer Piper, a member of an emergency response team from San Diego, who was there to aid animals.
While on her rounds, she stopped to use the bathroom at the Chet Fire Department. They asked Piper if she was there for the cat. She said, “No, but do you have a cat?” The firefighters handed over the tiny kitten in a small box.
Not Looking Good
Piper didn’t think the kitten would survive. Her eyes and nose were crusted with blood and goo, and she could barely open her eyes. The firefighters thought she had suffered blunt-force trauma. Piper needed to act fast to save the kitten.
She rushed the kitten to a vet in Las Vegas. After two rounds of antibiotics, the kitten was strong enough to be transferred to a temporary animal shelter and then to Española Humane. The organization named the kitten Summer in honor of Piper, and she was fully rehabilitated.
A Big Mom and Her Pups
During the fires, Española Humane provided care for 23 cats and kittens. They also worked to provide extensive medical care for a 100-pound mastiff mix, Porky, and her seven rambunctious puppies. Firefighters picked them up near Mora, where the dogs ran to them for help.
Mattie Allen, director of communications for the organization, said the firefighters gave them water and food before the puppies passed out for a nap. Porky and her pups were evacuated from the area and eventually ended up at Española Humane.
Reunited With Her Owner
Porky and her babies received so much love. The dogs were spayed, neutered, dewormed, and microchipped before Porky was reunited with her owner. Her owner was so happy to see that her beloved dog was alive and well after they had been separated.
Although the adorable puppies were Porky’s babies, they were put up for adoption and have all found warm and loving homes. The seven puppies, nicknamed the Magnificent Seven, were big, but they had so much love to give their new owners. Everyone was happy to see their happy ending.
She Came Out of Nowhere
On May 1, a fire crew was working on containing the flames near Mora. They saw a large dog come running out of an actively burning area, so they put her in the truck for a quick inspection. The dog didn’t seem to have any burns or signs of respiratory damage.
The lab-pit bull mix was friendly, so they took her to the Old Memorial Middle School in Las Vegas, which was acting as a shelter for animals and people. The dog was then sent to a temporary shelter near Santa Fe.
She Didn’t Have an Owner
Every dog at the temporary shelter had to have an owner. Queila Costello, a Red Cross volunteer, agreed to take custody of the dog, since named Mora, because of where rescuers found her. During her daily walks, Costello became friends with Shannon Baruth, an evacuated Las Vegas resident.
Baruth already had a dog named Annie, but she was considering adopting another dog. Costello and Baruth assumed Mora had an owner, so they posted pictures and information online. No one contacted the shelter, so Costello went through with the adoption.
Four Pitties in Trouble
Tina Holguin, shelter director at the Animal Welfare Coalition, shared the story of four pit bulls rescued by an unnamed good Samaritan. The person came across the pit bulls on May 5, covered in soot with their eyelashes burned off. The dogs were struggling to breathe.
The rescuer brought the dogs to animal control officials, who nursed them back to health. The shelter named the dogs after Greek, Roman, and Hawaiian deities associated with fire: Vesta, Hestia, Pele, and Phoenix. No one came forward to claim the dogs, so they were put up for adoption.
His Favorite Companion
On May 18, Jim Sorenson drove to the Jemez Mountains to enjoy a day on the water before the Santa Fe National Forest closed the following day. He brought his dog, Elwood, along for the ride because he never went fishing without his favorite companion.
Sorenson and Elwood were headed to the Rio Guadalupe, a pretty mountain stream in the national forest. The two were about five miles from the wildfire’s western front. They walked from the truck and followed their usual routine, with Sorenson fishing while Elwood played on the bank.
He Went Missing
Sorenson and Elwood had done the same thing many times before. People aren’t supposed to let their dogs off the leash, but everyone did it. As Sorenson fished in an area where the river was lined with dense brush, he noticed Elwood was no longer on the bank.
He got out of the water to search for his dog but had no luck. Sorenson spent five hours searching the area until it started to get dark. He had no choice but to drive home. Sorenson had a horrible feeling inside.
Asking for Help
The following day, Sorenson called Jemez Valley Animal Amigos, a rescue group near the mountains. They helped get the word out about his dog and suggested Sorenson go back and leave articles of clothing to attract Elwood to his scent.
Sorenson drove up to the area with a blanket, T-shirt, and some flyers, but the forest road was closed, so he couldn’t leave them. He ran into a fire crew at the gate and told them about Elwood. Firefighter Glenn Engelhaupt Jr. offered to put the clothing in the forest.
Sorenson left with a feeling of hope, and he got great news the following day. Three firefighters were patrolling the area and spotted Elwood sitting on the blanket. He seemed stressed, so they took him in and called Sorenson to arrange a hand-off.
Elwood was fine besides for a small cut on his paw. Sorenson was beyond grateful to have Elwood back and told himself he would never let his dog off the leash again. Sorenson was thankful to Animal Amigos for helping him and to the firefighters who offered their help.
A Media Sensation
Besides the sweet puppies and kittens, an elk named Cinder was one of the many survivors of the wildfires. Cinder emerged as one of the biggest media sensations because of his incredible story. On May 21, a firefighter from Montana was sent to put out lingering hotspots in New Mexico.
The firefighter, Nate Sink, said, “I was up on a ridge and was working on a half-burned tree. I took a break, looked around, and everything was black and white. The trees were black, and ash was everywhere. From 50 yards away, I saw an elk calf sitting in four inches of ash.”
Sink kept his distance, thinking the elk’s mom would return for her calf. He waited for a while, but there was no mom in sight. Sink didn’t want to leave the calf, so he brought it to a pair of local ranchers he had met earlier.
Lisa and Carl Bartley inspected the elk, telling Sink to bring it to their local vet. The doctor prescribed Cinder a mix of evaporated milk, electrolytes, and water. Sink soon gave Cinder to Kathleen Ramsay, a vet with extensive experience rehabilitating wild animals.
He Was Close to Death
Ramsay said Cinder would have died if Sink hadn’t taken him in when he did. She believed the elk’s mother gave birth prematurely because the fire caused her stress and she left her baby behind. Cinder was only a few days old and still had his umbilical cord.
Since Cinder was separated, he didn’t get his mother’s milk with its important antibodies. Ramsay spent three days syringing breast milk into Cinder’s mouth. Cinder got lucky because he was close to death. Sink got to him just in time, and now Cinder is thriving.
He’s Doing Well
Ramsay kept Cinder on her property. He had four acres to graze under with a 22-year-old elk cow who was experienced watching over young elk like Cinder. Ramsay said, “Her job is to be out there with the elk, teaching them how to be elk.”
Sometime later this year, Cinder will be tagged and released on private ranchland. This will allow him to be accepted into a herd and live a long, healthy life. Even though Cinder had a rough start, he is going to grow into a strong elk.
A Second Chance
Like the fires in New Mexico, Australia was also hit hard by wildfires in late 2019 and early 2020. Many properties were destroyed, and it impacted the wildlife. However, in the sorrow, there were some heartwarming stories of animal survivors, including Phoenix the calf.
In early January 2020, Phoenix’s herd died because of the fires on a property in South Australia. She was the only survivor, but a rescue team saved her and brought Phoenix to Edgar’s Mission. She was exhausted and sank into a bed of straw.
Emerging From the Ashes
The sanctuary named the little calf Phoenix because she emerged from the ashes of the worst bushfires. Rescuers took care of the adorable calf, bottle-feeding her until she was strong and at a normal weight. Volunteers at the sanctuary started to see amazing improvements.
Phoenix found a loving home where she could graze freely and have a second chance at life. She has grown into a strong cow, and most would never know that she went through such a frightening experience as a calf. Phoenix is happy and healthy because of the people who saved her.
They Had to Act Fast
In a fire-stricken area along Australia’s central coast, a team of rescuers from the Animal Justice Party set out to feed surviving wildlife in the area. The group found a hen near a property that was severely damaged. The hen’s injuries were worse than they thought.
Catherine Kelaher, the founder of the New South Wales Hen Rescue, made sure to pack pain relief for immediate treatment, but it wasn’t enough. The hen had extensive injuries to her eye, chest, and feet. Kelaher had to act fast to give the hen a chance to survive.
A Lot of Trauma
The hen, whom they named Amelia, was rushed to an emergency vet. Kelaher said, “They got her on strong pain relief, on a drip because she was severely dehydrated.” Amelia had severe burns on her feet, and the vet said they wouldn’t be able to save her eye.
Not only did she suffer from physical trauma, but Amelia also lost her friends. It took a few weeks for Amelia to gain enough strength to have surgery on her eye. The procedure made her much more comfortable, but she had a long road to recovery.
Kelaher was amazed by Amelia’s resilience. She started to warm up to her rescuers and became more comfortable around humans. Amelia will most likely stay at the sanctuary because she will need ongoing care, which will give her a chance to have a happy life.
While they would normally put her back on a farm, Kelaher said that Amelia will have bonded with people and other hens by the time she is finished with treatments. Staying in the sanctuary means she will get watermelon on hot days and have a future without pain or fear.
A Special Rescue Pup
Shortly before the fires in Australia, Bear struggled to find a home or job. The rescue dog had trouble fitting in with a forever home because he had so much energy and always wanted to play. However, these traits and his keen nose made Bear a perfect candidate to be a detection dog.
The University of the Sunshine Coast’s Detection Dogs for Conservation Team took Bear and trained him to sniff out koalas in need of rescue during natural disasters. Bear excelled and became an official team member.
He Saved Many Animals
Bear used his skills to sniff out over 100 live koalas stuck in scorched areas when the fires broke out. Because of the adorable rescue dog, the koalas got the medical care they desperately needed to recover from their burns and dehydration.
He wore special booties to protect his paws so he could walk through areas that were still hot. Bear was honored by the International Fund for Animal Welfare for his rescue efforts during the fires. He works throughout the year to rescue many animals.
He Ran Away
When a family in northeast Victoria had to evacuate their home, they couldn’t find their new puppy. They had just gotten the sweet dog over Christmas but had to leave him behind because the fires were getting closer, and he was nowhere to be found.
Although their house was destroyed when they returned, they found their little puppy was still alive. They raced him to the nearby Tintaldra Hotel, and the owner, Darren Jones, soaked him in cold water. He had a few burns, so he needed to be treated quickly.
He Found a Hiding Spot
The little puppy must have found a good hiding spot because he wasn’t terribly injured. Jones said the puppy drank a lot of water and fell asleep. He probably found a hole and crawled in it to stay away from the raging fires.
It is unbelievable how he survived, but his family was happy to find him safe and alive. Once his paws were wrapped, and he got water, the little puppy was ready to go home with his family. Now he can have a long, happy life with his family.