When Cinder the bear was found beneath a horse trailer in Washington state, paws injured by third-degree burns, pulling herself along on her elbows, no one had any idea that the cub would become a limping symbol of a region’s recovery.

The July 2014 fire that injured Cinder also destroyed 300 homes and burned 400 square miles — a charred section of north-central Washington almost as big as the city of Los Angeles.

No one could find Cinder’s mother or siblings. All rescuers knew was that the 37-pound brown bear cub wouldn’t survive in the wild for much longer.

She recovered at several rehabilitation centers, doubling her weight within months and becoming an international celebrity for what she symbolized, the Associated Press reported. If a tiny burned bear could beat the odds, so could this section of Washington devastated by the most destructive wildfire in state history.

Months later, CBS News cameras captured a no-longer-limping Cinder sprinting into the forest of the Cascade Mountains.

But that happy ending was short-lived.

A radio tracking collar officials put on Cinder stopped transmitting in October 2017, the AP reported. Officials hoped it was because she was in her den, hunkered down for the winter, possibly with cubs.

But when a crew ventured into the mountains, they found the skeletal remains of what used to be Cinder, the collar sliced off and lying nearby. They believe a hunter shot the bear and cut off the collar, which rendered it inoperable.

In the past week, experts conceded that setting Cinder free wasn’t the end of the story, but a beginning. Once the bear bolted into the trees, she would again have to face all the dangers of the wild on her own.

“We realize that once the animals are set free, they’re open to what’s out there, whether it’s humans or other animals,” Tom Millham, the founder of the California center where she recovered, told the Methow Valley News. “All we’re giving them is a second chance at life.”

Animal lovers closely followed the fight for Cinder’s life. Those earliest photos showed a pitiable sight: an emaciated cub lying on her side, fur missing or singed, all four paws wrapped in bandages. But despite all she had endured, she was still breathing.

Sad to learn Cinder the bear died. She was burned in a wildfire and became a symbol of hope and survival. After wound...

Posted by Molly Shen KOMO on Wednesday, December 12, 2018
Posted by Lake Tahoe Wildlife Care, Inc. on Sunday, August 10, 2014

“It was the worst burns I’ve ever seen,” veterinarian Randy Hein told “CBS This Morning.” “My gut feeling was that the bear would live, but I didn’t know if she’d ever be able to be released into the wild because of how badly damaged and burned her paws were.”

Still, she was on the mend, and so was the region of Washington where she came from.

“She inspired them to rebuild and move on from the devastating Carlton Complex Fire,” Rich Beausoleil, a Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife specialist who helped nurse the bear back to health, told CBS News. “I’ll always remember someone saying, ‘If Cinder can do it, then we can do it.’ That inspired me, too.”

She also inspired a children’s book, “Cinder the Bear,” an interactive “true story of how people came together to save a little bear cub that was badly burned in the devastating 2014 wildfires in Washington State.” Benefits from the book went to Lake Tahoe Wildlife Care and Idaho Black Bear Rehabilitation, the two facilities that nursed Cinder back to health.

One character in the book was another cub injured by fire, a male named Kaulana. They met in Idaho and for years they wouldn’t leave each other’s side.

In fact, the only thing that separated them was their recovery.

Kaulana was released in 2015; Cinder went into the wild two years later.

In the end, they met the same fate. Kaulana was also killed by a hunter.


(iStock)

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