Bear Cub Saved From Florida Brush Fire With Burnt Paws And Singed Fur, But Is Recovering

As a brush fire swept through her neighborhood, an aspiring game warden heard an animal wailing.

Natorie Borst, 17, was with her father on his leased wooded property when she heard the frightened sound, calling for help. She knew instantly that the animal was in distress, the Orlando Sentinel recounted.

Before long, the hurt creature emerged: a bear cub, and it was running toward them.

“At first … he was skittish. But at the same he came running toward us. He didn’t act like he was trying to hurt us, so we picked him up and took him out to the road.”

Borst is from Lake County, Florida, and is a sophomore at a local high school. The brush fire swept through 141 acres in the area starting Thursday, and has since been contained.

It seems as though the bear cub is the brush fire’s only reported injury. The area in which Natorie heard the crying animal was on fire at the time of the discovery.

He suffered mild burns to his paws, and his fur had been singed a bit. He recovered from his minor injuries, resting at a vet’s office Thursday night, while wildlife officials looked for the bear cub’s mother.

“The cub is doing great,” said forestry spokesperson Judith Tear. “Fish and Wildlife is on the scene looking for a mom and siblings. They will continue to keep it and put it at a rehab facility. At the time that it’s better it will be released.”

While the Florida paper identified the aspiring game warden as the bear cub’s rescuer, CNN credited someone else.

That person is Lake County Fire Rescue Battalion Chief Randy Jones, who is said to have spotted the bear cub after the brush fire, during what’s called the “mop up” phase.

“We treated him like one of our own,” Battalion Chief Tony Cuellar said. “Actually, we gave him a name while we waited for fish and game to arrive.”

The name they picked: Smokey Junior, or SJ for short, in honor of the anti-wildfire mascot Smokey Bear.

At the time he was discovered, Cuellar said his airways “seemed fine” and he was “pretty calm.” The state’s Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission has been taking care of the bear cub ever since he was found.

He is estimated to be about 15 to 20 pounds in size. According to United Press International, an adult female bear has already been spotted and they believe it could be the cub’s mom. They will attempt to reunite the pair.

The brush fire swept through a residential area near the Ocala National Forest, which is home to the state’s largest population of black bears.

The brush fire ignited around 4 p.m. Thursday and investigators are trying to pin down a cause. Low humidity and wind helped the flames spread.

“This time of the year is when we get high winds and low humidity,” the county’s assistant fire chief Jim Dickerson said. “This time of year we get the fronts that come through and don’t bring some rain, but bring some lightning. The dry weather behind those fronts is a recipe for fires.”

The brush fire is now contained and scorched 141 acres. About two dozen firefighters, 11 tractors, two helicopters, and an airplane were involved in the take down. A few unoccupied buildings were destroyed, but homes were saved.

As for Natorie, her father’s land — which he leases from the state — was damaged in the brush fire. But there’s a silver lining: the real-world experience of rescuing the bear cub has solidified the teen’s career path as a game warden.

“Something like this makes you want to be one even more.”

[Image via Lake County Fire & Rescue/Facebook]

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