This year’s fire season is already off to a gruelling start in New Mexico, as the Calf Canyon/Hermits Peak fire became the state’s largest wildfire in history earlier this month. The separate fires began in early April and had combined into one larger fire by the middle of that month, fuelled by dry conditions and harsh winds.
Among the destruction wrought by the nearly 1258-square-metre fire (currently, the largest fire burning in the country), there’s a tiny bit of good news. Firefighters working on the fire in mountains to the east of Santa Fe rescued a very cute baby elk, which they nicknamed, adorably, Cinder.
Found Abandoned In Ash
According to a Facebook post made by the official Calf Canyon and Hermits Peak Fire Facebook page, firefighters from the Missoula Fire Department, who were deployed to New Mexico, first spotted the calf last weekend when checking a previously-burned forested area for residual heat. The calf was lying in a six-inch layer of ash.
‘I Didn’t Think It Was Alive”
“The whole area is just surrounded in a thick layer of ash and burned trees,” firefighter Nate Sink told the AP. “I didn’t think it was alive.”
The firefighters waited for an hour to see if the calf’s mother would show up, but they spotted no adult elk in the area; they also didn’t see any elk tracks in the ash around the calf. The firefighters decided to take the calf to a local ranch down the road.
Rescued By Ranchers
The ranchers’ local veterinarian advised them to feed Cinder with condensed milk and water while they figured out a special plan of care for her. (Per the Facebook post, the rancher’s dog was eager to be a substitute mum to the calf, which is adorable.) The calf was just 32 pounds (14.5 kilograms) and probably only days old; she came with her umbilical cord still attached and had been singed by flames from the wildfire.
Safely In Rehab
Cinder was taken by the ranchers to Cottonwood Rehab, a wildlife rehab clinic in nearby Las Vegas, New Mexico, where she will stay for the next four months to get her ready to be released into the wild. According to the Facebook post, there’s a female elk who is acting as a “surrogate mother” to Cinder, cleaning her and giving her affection — and enabling the staff to have as hands-off an approach to rearing her as possible, to ensure her survival in the wild.
“They do elk things, they don’t do people things,” Kathleen Ramsay, a veterinarian at the rehab, told the AP.
Fire Still Burning
Even if Cinder is safe, the fire that torched her homeland continues to burn. As of Friday, the fire had burned 312,230 acres and was 47% contained. Firefighters expressed hope in a press conference held earlier this week that a spate of colder weather could help contain the fire, but they warned Friday that weather conditions could worsen and keep the fire going. All of New Mexico was under a fire warning from the National Weather Service from Friday through Saturday thanks to high winds, low humidity, and above-average temperatures.