Firefighters save ‘Cinder’ the elk calf from the ashes of a fire

SANTA FE, New Mexico — Firefighters have rescued an abandoned newborn calf found amid the ashes of the nation’s largest wildfire as calving season nears its peak in New Mexico and fires rage across the American West.

Missoula, Montana-based firefighter Nate Sink said Tuesday he came across the immobile elk calf on the floor of a fire-blackened New Mexico forest while patrolling and extinguishing persistent hot spots.

“The whole area is surrounded by a thick layer of ash and burnt trees. I didn’t think he was alive,” said Sink, who was deployed to the state to help contain a wildfire. which as of Wednesday had spread over 486 square miles (1,260 square kilometers) and destroyed hundreds of structures.

It is one of five major uncontained fires burning in New Mexico in extremely dry and windy conditions. More than 3,000 firefighters battling the largest blaze have made significant progress in halting its growth in recent days before more dangerous fire conditions are expected to return this weekend, crew commanders said Wednesday evening.

Wildlife officials generally discourage interactions with elk calves that are briefly left alone for the first few weeks of life while their mothers feed from a distance. Sink says he searched diligently for traces of the calf’s mother and found none.

The 32-pound (14.5-kilogram) scorched bull calf, nicknamed “Cinder”, was cared for at a nearby ranch and is now regaining strength at a wildlife rehabilitation center in Espanola, north of Santa Fe.

Cottonwood Rehab vet Kathleen Ramsay says she paired Cinder with an adult surrogate elk to be raised with as little human contact as possible.

“They do things with moose, they don’t do things with people,” Ramsay said, noting that Cinder came at a tender age with her umbilical cord still attached.

Ramsay said the calf could hopefully be released into the wild in December after the elk hunting season. The strategy worked on several occasions with elk being tracked by beacons as they joined wild herds.

The calf rescue was reminiscent of events 70 years ago in New Mexico involving a scalded black bear cub and fire prevention mascot “Smokey Bear.”

The American fire safety campaign took on new urgency in 1950 with the rescue by firefighters of a black bear cub badly burned by a fire in southern New Mexico. The cub – named Smokey Bear after the mascot – recovered and lived at the National Zoo until his death in 1976.

Wildfires erupted this spring in several western states, where climate change and persistent drought are fueling the frequency and intensity of forest and grassland fires.

Crews battling the largest US fire in northern New Mexico enjoyed a final day of favorable weather on Wednesday before warmer, drier and windier conditions returned late Thursday and continued to worsen the next week.

“Throughout the fire, we’ve made very good progress over the past few days,” Incident Commander Carl Schwope said during a Wednesday evening briefing.

“We have more critical fire weather conditions coming in… starting now and getting hotter and drier through the weekend. (But) we feel really confident that we are ahead on this,” he said.

Bruno Rodriguez, an interagency meteorologist assigned to the fire, said gusts are expected to continue to increase by around 5 mph (8 km/h) per day, from 25 mph (40 km/h) on Thursday to 50 mph (80 km/h) by Monday. .

“It will definitely be a critical fire weather pattern and unfortunately it will be quite prolonged and persistent,” he said.

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Associated Press writer Scott Sonner contributed to this report from Reno, Nevada.

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