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Shuswap firefighters rescue and reunite pets after owners forced to flee

Pets rescued from fire zone

Amid the stories of returning evacuees in the Shuswap as the threat of the still-burning Bush Creek East wildfire diminishes, volunteers are helping to reunite pets lost in the emergency with their owners.

Alice McGurry with the Little Shuswap Lake Indian Band's Skwlax Fire Department and a crew of fellow firefighters are using their spare time between shifts to locate animals that may have bolted during the fire or were unable to be gathered up by their owners before evacuations were issued.

McGurry says she and others make the rounds each day of pet crates and traps they have set out with food to lure in pets that have been fending for themselves for weeks.

So far, they have collected 23 cats, a few dogs and some chickens.

The day after the fire swept through the area, burning multiple homes, McGurry says firefighters found a pet dog still tied up on a long leash.

The fire had burned down the home and came to within three feet of the animal.

Its owners had been out of town for the day when the evacuation order meant they couldn't return home to retrieve the pet.

"The fire came through so fast, a lot of people couldn't get their pets in time," says McGurry. "If their cat was outside, it had probably already run away from the fire."

McGurry says she sets and checks the traps when done her shift.

There were a lot of animals at first, and each day there are fewer – a sign that most have been found, or that the worst came to pass in the fire.

"They are traumatized, scared, some have singed whiskers ... mostly, they are dirty and scared."

She's had "unbelievable" help from the Shuswap Paws Rescue Society and SPCA, which have been tracking ownership tattoo numbers on the pets.

Foster families have been taking in the animals until their owners can be located. Some will eventually be adopted out if the owner can't be tracked down or they lost their home to the fire and no longer have space for a pet.

"Some they can't take back because they don't have a home to go to," say McGurry.

She says reuniting pet and owner is an "uplifting" break from the bleak work of dealing with destroyed homes and lives.

In one instance, McGurry was at the door with a cat when the owners returned from evacuation ... "the woman started crying," she says.

Meanwhile, she's still fighting the fire and working on structure protection and mop-up.

And the crew has been working with conservation officers, who recently saved two orphaned bear cubs that lost their mother and were burned in the fire.

"It's so hard to see some of the others," she says, including a deer that has eluded capture but is badly burned on its hind quarters.

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