As flames ravaged his woodland home, a little black bear cried out.
At 9 weeks old, weighing just 6 pounds, the helpless cub squealed as he clung to the tree he climbed to escape the flames that burned through rural Lake County last Thursday.
Premium content for only $0.99
For the most comprehensive local coverage, subscribe today.
Natorie Borst, 17, heard the bear while driving by. When she and her father went to help, the cub leaped down to them. They scooped him up and took him to firefighters.
The little guy is lucky to be alive.
"I just think he's really too young to know what to do without his mother," Borst said. "I don't think he'd be able to survive without her."
He's recovering at the Lowry Park Zoo's veterinary hospital in Tampa. Firefighter also gave him an apt name: Smokey Jr.
The brush fire that almost killed the cub — and actually singed the fur on his ears and paws — was caused by an unauthorized pile burn, said Lake County Fire Rescue spokeswoman Elisha Pappacoda.
Battalion Chief Tony Cuellar, who helped name the cub, examined the bear. The paramedic saw Smokey Jr.'s singed fur and wanted to make sure he hadn't inhaled too much smoke.
"He was very docile and beautiful," Cuellar said.
The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission said it spent this past weekend searching for the cub's mother. Pappacoda said the agency even left the cub in a cage in the woods, hoping his mom would appear.
"They tried every single day to try to find the mom," she said. "No one ever came."
Go to tampabay.com for the full story.