After their home was destroyed in an all-consuming fire, a Colorado family thought they’d gotten some good news when police found their cat and brought her to the local Humane Society.
The Conejo family visited their beloved Pumpkin at the veterinary clinic where she was recovering from her burns and were eager to bring her home until a veterinary tech realized there’d been a mistake: Pumpkin is female, but the heavily burned and convalescing orange tabby was male.
Now the parents — who were not home when the fire ripped through their neighborhood and couldn’t retrieve either of their cats or their belongings — have to tell their two young kids that it was a case of mistaken identity, and they still don’t know what happened to Pumpkin and their other cat, Justin.
In what is now officially the worst fire in Colorado history, almost 1,000 homes were destroyed and more than 100 others damaged, leaving tens of thousands of people homeless with many of them still searching for their missing cats and dogs two months later.
The Dec. 30 blaze ripped across three suburban towns between Denver and Boulder, consuming entire housing divisions, strip malls and stand-alone buildings. Authorities still haven’t said how the fire started, playing their cards close to the vest as they await laboratory tests and analysis from forensic fire investigators.
A search warrant executed on the compound of a nearby cult and a viral video that showed a barn burning on the group’s property, reportedly at the time firefighters were notified of the initial fire, have drawn attention and speculation from locals. But authorities say they’re looking at every possibility, from a possible lightning strike to an electrical fire and even the possibility that one of the nearby abandoned coal mines could have spontaneously ignited.
While the Conejo family did not get the news they wanted, things had a happy ending for the male tabby they thought was their Pumpkin.
“Hi, sweetie,” she said, hugging Boots tight in a video posted to the Humane Society’s Facebook page.
Some neighbors, who were inexplicably but mercifully spared by the fire, were counting their blessings but said they felt guilt as well.
Tracy and Jason Granucci were vacationing in Mexico’s Cabo San Lucas when their phones began blowing up with incoming alerts and texts from concerned friends.
Tracy Granucci immediately texted Carol, her cat-sitter: “I don’t care about the house,” she wrote in the text. “Obviously Peanut is all I care about.”
Routes to their street were blocked off and neither Carol nor animal rescue volunteers were able to get to the Granucci home, but when they returned they saw their home was still standing, unscathed despite the destruction of four nearby houses. Peanut, their 16-year-old tortoiseshell, was fine.
“The feelings I’ve had about being in our home and looking out at our neighbors and our community is definitely … survivor’s guilt,” Tracy Granucci told the local PBS news affiliate. “All you want to do is you want to help everybody.”
Camden Hall was at work when the fire raged through his neighborhood and was terrified that his cat, Merlin, was in its path.
When his landlord called to tell him the house had burned down, Hall said he felt “like someone had just ripped my soul out.”
Luck was on Merlin’s side. A neighbor heard distressed meows coming from one of the few homes that were still standing and found the little guy on the porch, badly burned but still alive. Hall reunited with Merlin at a local veterinary clinic.
The ordeal isn’t over for Merlin, however. His injuries were much worse than were realized, and he’s got several procedures and a long road to recovery ahead of him. A GoFundMe started by a friend of Hall will cover the veterinary expenses and help Hall get back on his feet.