EUSTIS, Fla. – Florida wildlife officials are working to reunite a black bear with a cub that was rescued from a large brush fire in Lake County.
The cub, nicknamed Smokey Junior or SJ, was found Thursday evening with singed fur and burned paws after a 140-acre fire spread to the Royal Trails subdivision in Eustis. Officials initially estimated the fire closer to 300 acres.
The cub was found by Natorie Borst, 17, who said she heard the bear crying in the woods.
"He was just running toward us like he was so just so happy to get out of there," she said. "We picked him up, took him out and put him on the road, and that's when the forestry people came up and took him. I hope he's doing OK."
Crews said bears can usually outrun fires, but the cub is only a couple months old.
"His hair has been singed. He's got some minor burns, looks like, on the bottom of his feet, maybe his lips, but he's certainly survivable if cared for,” Ray Lovett with the Florida Forest Service said.
Officials said Thursday that the mother bear was nowhere to be found, but she might have been located in the woods Friday morning.
"We think she's probably just off in those bushes waiting for things to calm down," Mike Orlando with Florida Fish & Wildlife said. "The best opportunity that we have with this cub's survival is to get it back with its mom."
Wildlife officials walked around the woods with SJ and spread his scent, hoping his mother bear will smell him and come back.
"We got scent all along that trail, we got scent in all different areas," Orlando said. "If she's anywhere near here she's probably going to smell him."
FWC is keeping SJ in a crate under some blankets until his mother comes for him.
"We're just going to let him sit there and hopefully the mother will smell him and come on in," Orlando said.
Crews said the brush fire burned 25 acres and spread quickly, with winds fueling the flames across streets, making it difficult for firefighters to contain.
"With those strong winds, we've had trouble with spotting fires going across roads and across our control lines," said John Kern, a Florida Forest Service deputy chief.
The fire endangered several nearby homes and destroyed a gazebo, but no one was injured.
Officials said two helicopters dropped about 60 buckets of water on the fire and nine bulldozers were used to battle the blaze. They determined an unauthorized pile burn caused the blaze.
Meanwhile, another brush fire scorched about 300 acres in Volusia County, forcing officials to close State Road 40 near Pierson and Barberville. The road reopened Friday morning.
Hot and breezy weather conditions remained a concern and crews remained at the scene Friday to ensure that embers don't spark a fire.