Meet Porky, Cinder, and Different Furry Survivors of the 2022 New Mexico Superfires

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Emerald’s Big Adventure

This little guy is an adopted stray male whose owner, Tina Heffner, named him Emerald because of his beautiful green eyes. As you can see, they’re black in the photo on the right, which was taken soon after he emerged from an unusual experience: being lost and alone for a month in the middle of the biggest fire in New Mexico history.

Heffner told me she wasn’t sure if Emerald’s soot-stained eyes would ever return to their former shade of green—fortunately, they have—and, like me, she wonders how he survived for so long out there. Somehow he must have scavenged food and water while getting basted and fogged day after day with nasty smoke. Whatever happened, Heffner regards his return as a gift. “He saw the darkness,” she says. “I honestly thought I’d never see this cat again.”

Heffner lives on 13 acres in the small community of Encinal, New Mexico, in the heart of an area hit hard by the Calf Canyon–Hermit’s Peak Fire. Her family’s property contains two houses and an RV, along with fruit trees, evergreens, meadow grass, and plots for raising vegetables. The extended clan includes Heffner’s parents, her brother, Emerald, and another adopted stray, a female named Smokey. Heffner’s dad, who is 84, is on oxygen due to a respiratory condition. Her mom, who is 70, had emergency gallbladder surgery a week before the family was forced to evacuate as the fire closed in. While they were packing to go on April 22, the cats were nowhere to be seen.

“Between getting my stuff and my parents’ stuff, I could not find them,” Heffner says. “I cried because we had to leave.”

Over the next few weeks, Heffner and her family relocated three times, camping for a while at a state park southeast of the fire zone, staying for a week at an Airbnb in Las Vegas (which was paid for by a generous family friend), and parking their RV at a relative’s home in Springer, New Mexico. For a few days after the family first left, neighbors were able to go to Heffner’s house and leave out water and cat food, but eventually all of Encinal’s residents were told to leave.

When Heffner was finally able to return home on May 18, she was extremely relieved to find that the houses hadn’t burned, though it was close—flames marched right past the back door of the home she shares with her mom. There was extensive damage to the land, with many trees reduced to black sticks. 

As for the cats: Smokey showed up immediately, but there was no sign of Emerald. Then, about four days later, the little wanderer came home, still wearing his spiffy pet collar but covered with what Heffner calls “filmy oily stuff” flecked with ash. She gave him a bath, and before long he seemed to feel fine—thinner, to be sure, but breathing well, eating, and drinking water. Heffner says he’s more comfortable around people than he used to be; life in the hot zone apparently gave him a new appreciation.



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