On June 30, a wildfire ignited in the small town of Yarnell, Arizona and soon after, took the lives of 19 firefighters, the highest wild land firefighter death toll in the U.S. The fire also gulped up over 8,300 acres of land, destroying homes and killing off area wildlife, who were found suffocated and charred.
After the community witnessed so much devastation, everyone knew there was a long, forlorn road to recovery ahead. What none of them expected though was for a young female raccoon to come out of the wildfire rumble.
The raccoon, named “Grace” by Yarnell residents, wandered into Christine and Leon Smith’s home three weeks after the forests surrounding the town burst into flames. The couple believed she came in from their back door, which they left open for cats who were made homeless because of the wildfire, reports Prescott Daily Courier.
The Smiths found Grace cowering behind their washing machine—wet, bloody, starving, and badly burned. B.J. Dorman, a local wildlife rehab volunteer, arrived the next day at the Smith’s house to take Grace to a rehabilitation center. Dorman said that she wouldn’t turn around to face them and was making noise, trying to be vicious because she was so terrified.
Michael Kiedrowski, the veterinarian who operated on Grace, reported that she lost the tips of her ears, all of her toes, her foot pads, and the fur on her feet and lower legs.
According to Mike Demlong, the wildlife education program manager for the Arizona Game and Fish Department, Grace would have been a candidate for humane euthanasia due to the severity of her condition. But because of where she came from and her ability to endure such an incident, the department decided to give her a second chance.
During her surgeries and rehabilitation, Grace lived at the Arizona Game and Fish Department’s Adobe Mountain Wildlife Center. Now, she has received a new home at the Heritage Park Zoological Sanctuary in Prescott. The non-profit sanctuary is currently seeking donations to help build her a heated sleeping area when she is ready to move outdoors.
“She’s definitely a fighter,” said Dorman. “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.”
Watch the video below for more details about Grace’s rescue and her impact on Yarnell’s community.