For one Fort McMurray cat, it turned out the best place to ride out a raging wildfire was inside a stove.
Jody Lishchynsky says that's where firefighters found her black cat Tux when they were going through the rubble of what used to be her house.
From what she understands, firefighters are speculating an explosion in the home might have blown out the stove glass, and Tux crawled inside. Then another blast or something else caused the appliance to topple onto its side, trapping Tux while simultaneously protecting him from the flames.
Lishchynsky says the day the fire bore down on her neighbourhood in the northern Alberta city was sheer chaos. She had heard neighbourhoods near where she lived were being evacuated, so she headed home to pick up her son and start boxing up photos and important documents.
"I didn't take the chance of going back in the house for anything."
"We gathered for about 15 minutes. We had a nice pile of photos in the kitchen, ready to go,'' she says. But then, "the wind shifted, and it jumped the highway. It came down over our hill in minutes. We had to run. We weren't expecting it at all.''
She, her son, her roommate and her brother jumped into their truck, along with the family dog, with only what they had in their arms. The photos, the documents and four cats all had to be left behind.
"I didn't take the chance of going back in the house for anything,'' she says. "It was coming too fast.''
Her brother stopped only long enough to help a neighbour get an elderly relative out of a home. "There were flames coming in the window already,'' says Lishchynsky, adding they couldn't really see the road, just blackness and fire.
They headed to her brother's cabin in Boyle, Alta., where they've set up a temporary home.
Lishchynsky says she was looking on social media when she saw pictures of a firefighter cradling a black cat with bandaged paws, and realized it was Tux.
"Holy smokes,'' she says. "He looked so dirty in the picture, and had no whiskers.''
Through more digging, she found out they had also rescued another of her cats, named Sky, though the other two cats were not found.
Late this week, she went to the Lac La Biche Humane Society and was reunited with Tux and Sky — whom firefighters had nicknamed Toast and Singe.
Sky lost most of her fur and Tux is wearing a cone while his paws, which sustained burns on the bottom, heal.
"I don't know why that fireman looked in that stove. That's just beyond me. Sure enough, there's the little frigger.''
As for her future, she's remaining optimistic. Losing her cherished photos and mementos stings the worst — "You can build another house, but you can't replace some of that stuff" — but her 12-year-old son, Landon O'Neill is helping her get through it. For Mother's Day, he got her a keepsake ring and told her it was to help her start her collection again.
And it helps to laugh, which Lishchynsky does when she thinks of her little cat's bizarre tale of survival.
"I don't know why that fireman looked in that stove,'' she says. "That's just beyond me. Sure enough, there's the little frigger.''
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