Baby bobcat 'Chips' rescued by fire crew

08/29/2012 12:00 AM

08/29/2012 3:58 PM

CHESTER – A bobcat kit is in safe hands at a Tahoe wildlife rescue center after surviving flames, smoke and ash from the month-old Chips fire.

The wildcat – the size of a domestic kitten – was wandering Saturday along the side of a road southwest of Canyon Dam, dazed and alone, said Tad Hair, superintendent of the fire crew that found her.

She was walking in circles near a stump, so young her eyes were just starting to open, he said.

Hair and his crew from Mad River tried to walk away from the kit but she followed them, curling up on Hair's boots and snuggling into his chaps every time they paused.

The crew searched the area but found no sign of a mother bobcat – "no tracks whatsoever except for this little gal's," said Hair, who named the kit "Chips."

Chips fire officials contacted Lake Tahoe Wildlife Care, a nonprofit organization run by volunteers who raise, rehabilitate and release orphaned and injured wildlife.

Anna Thompson, a Feather River College biology instructor and a volunteer for Lake Tahoe Wildlife Care, arrived at the fire camp near Chester with a special formula for bobcats. When Chips responded to the food, she was placed in a carrier for transport to the shelter near South Lake Tahoe.

Among the several volunteers who carried Chips on a leg of her 175-mile journey was an off-duty firefighter who irrigated the kit's eyes, following the general instructions for humans.

"That helped save her sight," said Cheryl Millham, executive director and cofounder of Lake Tahoe Wildlife Care.

Chips is being treated at the wildlife care center for second-degree burns on all paws and eye infections. She receives eye ointment three times a day, has a good appetite and sleeps a lot, Millham said.

"We are optimistic that once the smoke and ash have flushed out of her eyes, Chips will regain full vision in both eyes" she said.

Because she is so young, Chips will be sheltered throughout the winter with other bobcats to learn appropriate behavior. She will eventually be released back into the wild in an area where it is determined that food sources are abundant, Millham said.

The Chips fire, which started July 29 along the Pacific Crest Trail near Belden, has charred 73,193 acres and forced the evacuation of several communities along Highway 70 in the Feather River Canyon and Highway 89 at Lake Almanor.

Officials said Tuesday it was 71 percent contained but continued to burn actively within the containment lines created by crews lighting fires designed to burn into the main fire.

They expect to fully contain the fire Friday. The cause remains under investigation.

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