87 Rescue Animals Saved From Forest Fire in Florida

Emergency evacuations can be scary for anyone, especially when you have small children and pets to contend with and a short time to get them to safety. But imagine having nearly 90 pets that need to be moved immediately.

That’s what happened to animal rescue Salty Cats of St. Andrews Rescue in Panama City, Florida. Jackie Mihal, who runs the rescue, stepped out into her backyard to care for her animals - only to be greeted by a wall of flames. The woods surrounding her home (and rescue) were completely ablaze. “No warning, none. The whole woods was on fire,” said Mihal. 

With no time to spare, she jumped into action to save her rescued feral, stray, and abandoned cats (and rabbits). Luckily three Good Samaritans were in the area offering to help with the evacuations and joined in to help move the animals - Brian Salmon, Scott Morris, and Scott Trunzo. 

The four formed a makeshift “bucket brigade” to get the animals to safety, with Mihal loading the cats into crates as quickly as she could and handing them off to be loaded into a waiting trailer. 

“The building was being engulfed in smoke,” Mihal said. “I keep all my windows open, and smoke was pouring in. We didn’t know how much time we’d have before the building went up. I never could have gotten it done if Salmon, Morris, and Trunzo hadn’t been there.”

All 87 animals were safely loaded in about 20 minutes between the four of them. "I don't know how we were able to do what we did, but someone was definitely on our side," Mihal says. "The guys were a big, big help."

The rescue moved all 87 pets temporarily to a large storage building for shelter. Thankfully, the winds shifted, and the fire didn’t reach Mihal’s home or cat buildings - but the property was heavily smoke-damaged and uninhabitable.

The animals stayed at the temporary shelter for ten days while Mihal worked to replace the multitude of cat trees, blankets, beds, and toys that were damaged beyond repair.

"Everything had to be tossed out because of the smoke," said Mihal. "Then we had to wash everything down, repaint, and reseal everything before the cats could come back. 

Thanks to an outpouring of support from the community, Mihal was able to get all the animals back into her property.

"It's been tremendous," she says. "People are bringing beds and toys and money. We're still getting towers in. We had about seven towers that had to be tossed,” Said Mihal.

"Someone donated the paint, which was huge. I had volunteers come help me paint. All that plays a huge part for us in terms of being able to continue helping animals."

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