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10/8/2013 6:02:00 AM
TINY SURVIVOR
Raccoon rises from ashes of Yarnell Hill wildfire
Les Stukenberg/The Daily Courier 
The young female raccoon saved from the Yarnell Hill Fire recently arrived at the Heritage Park Zoological Sanctuary in Prescott.
Les Stukenberg/The Daily Courier
The young female raccoon saved from the Yarnell Hill Fire recently arrived at the Heritage Park Zoological Sanctuary in Prescott.
Courtesy photo/Arizona Game and Fish
The raccoon gets some food on her first day
at the Adobe Mountain Wildlife Center. The video below was also produced by the Arizona Game and Fish.
Courtesy photo/Arizona Game and Fish
The raccoon gets some food on her first day at the Adobe Mountain Wildlife Center. The video below was also produced by the Arizona Game and Fish.


Joanna Dodder Nellans
The Daily Courier


A tiny raccoon's sheer determination and will to survive the Yarnell Hill wildfire offers an inspiration to all those struggling to recover from the devastating disaster.

The young adult female wandered into a Yarnell couple's home three weeks after the wildfire exploded into town June 30. All its paws and lower legs were burned.

"Typically, given its condition, it's something we would euthanize right away," conceded Mike Demlong, wildlife education program manager for the Arizona Game and Fish Department. "Because it came from the Yarnell Hill fire and had such a rough time, we decided to give it a second chance."

A baby golden eagle wasn't so lucky; wildlife officials believe it likely died trying to leave its nest too early because of the heavy smoke of the wildfire. Mule deer and javelina were found suffocated in the Glen Isla neighborhood where most of the homes burned.

"Obviously the wildfire was so fast, so horrendous that not much survived," Demlong said. At times, fire investigators estimate the flame front was moving at 10-12 miles per hour, at least four times the speed of other fast-moving wildfires, because of a rare monsoon outflow.

The unexpected speed of the fire and its changing direction led to the death of 19 of Prescott's Granite Mountain Hotshots that fateful day.

But the raccoon somehow survived, and she took hard hold of her second chance.

"It's something to give the community a reason to cheer," Demlong said. "Maybe through their actions, (the hotshots) somehow helped save this raccoon."

The raccoon lost the tips of her ears, all of her toes, her foot pads, and fur on her feet and lower legs. Veterinarian Michael Kiedrowski, who has performed countless free surgeries on injured Arizona wildlife, operated on her three times in July and August. Her pain will stop when her wounds have healed, but she won't be able to return to the wild because of her injuries, he said.

"She just needs some loving care more than anything else," he said.

The raccoon lived at the Arizona Game and Fish Department's Adobe Mountain Wildlife Center during her surgeries and rehabilitation.

"I hope this will be an important part of the healing process in the mountain communities that were so sadly affected by this fire," Adobe Mountain Director Sandy Cate said.

The raccoon now has a new home at the Heritage Park Zoological Sanctuary in Prescott.

"Pam is just a wonderful partner being willing to give this raccoon a lifetime home," Demlong said of Heritage Park Director Pam McLaren.

The sanctuary plans to conduct a naming contest for the raccoon.

"I think the community should have the opportunity to continue the healing process from the fire and hotshots' death," McLaren said.

The raccoon is living in the zoo's education animal building while her wounds continue to heal. People can see her through a window when she's not sleeping, although she often naps during the day because raccoons are nocturnal.

The non-profit sanctuary is seeking donations to help build her a heated sleeping area when she moves outdoors, because of her lack of leg fur.



Yarnell couple first to help

No one is happier that the raccoon survived than Christine and Leon Smith, who were the first to help it on July 22.

"I'm just so pleased they did save her," Leon said. "She meant a lot to us in the short time we had her."

The couple had been leaving the back door of their house open for the cats that were homeless after the Yarnell Hill wildfire. Sometimes the cats would come into the basement where Leon has an office.

Leon was going out to feed the cats July 22 when he heard a scratching noise. He called Christine in to see what he found hiding behind the washing machine.

"There was this little animal there all wet and shivering and shaking and cowering," Christine recalled.

"I could tell she was hurt because it looked like blood stains on the concrete floor," Leon said. He had seen blood earlier that day on his patio, too.

The couple decided to leave the raccoon alone to rest in the basement while they tried to find help for it. The Game and Fish Department directed them to its nearest wildlife rehab volunteer, B.J. Dorman in Wickenburg.

B.J. arrived the next morning with a portable cage and two nets. Leon was away from the house. Christine held the cage while B.J. tried to gently scoop the raccoon into the cage without hurting it more.

"He didn't even turn around," Dorman said. "He had his little face turned around toward the wall. He was making noise, trying to be vicious, because he was just so terrified."

Dorman took the raccoon home overnight before bringing it to the vet.

"She's definitely a fighter," Dorman said. "I can't begin to imagine what she went through for the three weeks before she was rescued.

"The mere fact that she escaped through the terrifying flames, successfully hid from predators when she could barely walk on her severely burned and infected little legs, and was able to inexplicably scavenge for food and water - it's nothing less than a miracle."

The raccoon is a bright spot in the trauma of the wildfire, Christine said.

"Stories like that really do help now," Christine said. "When I talk about the little raccoon, its definitely uplifting for me.

"I think she symbolizes something," Christine said.



Follow Joanna Dodder on Twitter: @joannadodder.





Reader Comments

Posted: Friday, October 11, 2013
Article comment by: Mike L

Wow...very touching, indeed!

Posted: Thursday, October 10, 2013
Article comment by: Shell A

Well said H Smith, well said! That is all I have to say, and THANK YOU for saying it so well.

Posted: Thursday, October 10, 2013
Article comment by: H Smith

@Keep it Grace: With all due respect, before you respond to a comment so defensively, take the time to comprehend it. If you had done this previously, you would've realized my agreement with the name Hotshot was not to represent the 19. You would have noticed the mention of the hundreds of people who lost their homes. Both of these are only points to support the main idea: her name should have correlation to this fire, as it is a nationally recognized event. Since I actually read other peoples thoughts before commenting, I can agree that @Agatha Jane presents a beautiful alternative with the name Nell or Nellie. It is where she came from and where she survived. If that isn't agreeable, Hope would still be a better option than Grace. Hope is what would have kept her pushing on, that is, aside from her natural instincts.

Posted: Thursday, October 10, 2013
Article comment by: Scary, this town

Writers here can get into a fight over anything. Grace, Miracle, Hotshot...the raccoon won't care. The article says the Zoo is going to hold a naming contest and it won't be decided on this page. By the way, raccoons are in no way sweet, delicate animals. They can be ferocious little devils, especially when threatened.

Posted: Thursday, October 10, 2013
Article comment by: C'mon People

HOTSHOT!

Posted: Wednesday, October 09, 2013
Article comment by: @ C'mon People


As has been stated, ENOUGH and THEY didn't save her...no more HOTSHOT(s)! Agree w/Agatha and don't make her go down in history w/THAT name, she made it on HER OWN, just HER, no 19 others. She was a defenseless animal, no shelters, no gear, no fire equipment>>>just HER. She is not a hero, she just wanted to survive and amazingly did so all on her own. By the Grace of god went she, please do not stigmatize her...let her gracefully live out her new life. Nuff said!


Posted: Wednesday, October 09, 2013
Article comment by: C'mon People

It should be Hotshot. Period! Don't argue with me now. Lol. And for those of you that don't have a sense of humor...I'm joking about the arguing statement only. I really do think it should be Hotshot. Please agree with me somebody.

Posted: Wednesday, October 09, 2013
Article comment by: Agatha Jane

The Hotshots didn't save her - she saved herself. Grace is the name given to her and it fits for many reasons already mentioned. Nell or Nellie would honor EVERYONE involved in the fire. .

Posted: Wednesday, October 09, 2013
Article comment by: Keep it Grace

Enough of the hotshots, they are being remembered in so many other ways, let HER be remembered for being HER....and AMAZING she is, so Grace is fitting. All that she went thru to survive and the pain she must've endured, she deserves the life of a queen, with a girly name that is fitting. Also it goes hand in hand with 'Grace under fire', she rose up and above the tragedy that maimed her, honor her strength! Poor little thing, it broke my heart to see her injuries and we can only hope she heals properly and gets to live a live full of love and care. Bless her for reminding us that strength comes in all sizes and species.

Posted: Wednesday, October 09, 2013
Article comment by: Jeanne Congdon

How about Hotshots' Spirit?

Posted: Wednesday, October 09, 2013
Article comment by: Heather Smith

The Yarnell Hill wildfire devastated individuals, families, and communities other than this one. It is common for an uplifting symbol to form following such an emotional and physical tragedy. Well ladies and gentleman, here she is. Her resilient spirit does spread hope and may be miraculous. However, she didnít walk away from this fire gracefully. She came out of it bloodied, burned, beautifully still clinging to life through unknowable pain and terror. To recognize her fight, the loss of the heroic 19, and the members (people or animal) of this community left without homes Ė her name should be specific to this event. This name should provide immediate correspondence and a common term will not do. Hotshot, now that, that will do.

Posted: Wednesday, October 09, 2013
Article comment by: To CJ Goodwin

ARE YOU SERIOUS CJ? She is not a delicate little flower as her survival has proven. Hotshot is perfect since she is so bold and courageous. It is also a way to honor our precious firefighters, they were bold too and paid the ultimate price. Jesus has nothing to do with this little girl. It is her absolute determination to endure and fight...and I say that makes her a Hotshot, just as it made those men Hotshots. Get real, CJ.

Posted: Wednesday, October 09, 2013
Article comment by: mary mullinnix

I actually had a dream of this little love after reading the article...I was very happy to see its little face rely on help from the doctor and others...so glad he/she made it...love this ending...poor baby!!!

Posted: Wednesday, October 09, 2013
Article comment by: Rancher up north

Whatever name she winds up with, this little critter will be happy at Heritage Park. Ought to do well there. Good job by the Smith's, doc, and all the folks involved.

Posted: Wednesday, October 09, 2013
Article comment by: C.J. Goodwin

Joanna, what a wonderful story you told and the video was awesome. I agree with the Smiths, her name should be Grace. She is such a sweet, now delicate animal. "Hotshot" is just too bold a name for her. And what a tribute to Jesus, the Great Healer, who sent her, Grace, to be a sign of hope for Yarnell !!

Posted: Tuesday, October 08, 2013
Article comment by: Lets Vote

Hotshot for sure! What a great way to honor our beloved fallen19!

Posted: Tuesday, October 08, 2013
Article comment by: Don Balmes

Thank you so very much Joanna for such a great story and the video was just wonderful. Thanks to all involved for those you took part in providing care for this precious female raccoon and giving it a special home.

Posted: Tuesday, October 08, 2013
Article comment by: Lillian Greer

I loved your article on the little raccoon that survived the Yarnell fire. My sister, who lives in Prescott, sent me the article. My brother lost his entire home in the Yarnell fire.
I agree with the folks that found the raccoon: her name should be GRACE because by God's grace, she survived.
My husband volunteers at our "Wildlife Education and Rehabilitation Center" WERC for short, here in Morgan Hill, California. We are able to see various injured animals rehabilitated. Some are able to be released back into the wild and some have injuries that prevent them returning to the wild. They are used for education and the children absolutely love them.


Posted: Tuesday, October 08, 2013
Article comment by: AZ Annie

I agree with Gail - Hotshot would be a great name!

Posted: Tuesday, October 08, 2013
Article comment by: Middle of the Road

Excellent post from Gail! Never knew the story about Smokey, which happened 4 years before I was born. Hotshot would be a great name! Thank you, you made my day.

Posted: Tuesday, October 08, 2013
Article comment by: Bless her heart

She should be called Miracle. She's adorable and I'm grateful they saved her. What concerns me is her pain, can't they medicate her for pain?

Posted: Tuesday, October 08, 2013
Article comment by: Gail Kenny

Yarnell's own Smokey story
In May 1950, Capitan, N.M. had a raging wildfire.
In June 2013, it was Yarnell.
In Capitan, 19 men were trapped by a rockslide and a 70-mile-an-hour wind that fanned the flames, but eventually survived.
In Yarnell, monsoon winds trapped 19 firefighters, who perished.
In Capitan, a small bear cub emerged, burned from the fire. He was first named Hotfoot, then renamed Smokey. He became a national treasure.
In Yarnell, a raccoon survived, badly burned. She will now have a home at the Heritage Park Zoological Sanctuary. Seems like she should be our area's treasure. Seems appropriate to name her not Hotfoot, but Hotshot.




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