Mickey Bruce was sitting inside his rural Santa Margarita home late last month when he saw wildfire just over the hill.
Bruce jumped into action, first calling his wife, who was in San Luis Obispo, before packing up their three dogs and getting together valuables so he could evacuate. He set out three carriers to get their cats packed up, too.
But the Bruces’ cats were nowhere to be found.
“Once they smelled the smoke, they were gone,” Bruce said. “I tried to get them, and I couldn’t.”
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That blaze, which turned out to be the 1,600-acre Hill Fire, consumed their home on Stagecoach Canyon Road off Parkhill Road east of the small North County town and everything in it, including family photo albums and home videos of the Bruces’ children.
Now, Bruce and his wife, Lisa, are asking for help finding two of their cats, Marnie and Cinnamon. Their son found their third cat, Sunny, two days after the fire.
Marnie is gray and black with a clipped right ear, and Cinnamon is a tabby. Marnie was spotted by neighbors about two weeks after the fire but hasn’t been seen since.
Cinnamon hasn’t been seen at all.
“And he’s the strongest out of the three,” Mickey Bruce said. “He came from the wild, somebody dumped him off, and it took us a week to even get near him.”
But after some time and care, Cinnamon became a “lap cat,” Bruce said, and the pair would eat ice cream or milk and cookies together every night.
“He was my buddy,” Mickey Bruce said. “I really miss him.”
Sunny is still recovering from the ordeal. He had burns on his paws and couldn’t walk for a few weeks; he is healing and is at their son’s house, Mickey Bruce said.
He said he’s put up posters around the area and talked to his neighbors, asking them to keep an eye out for the cats.
The Bruces, who are both retired, are staying with friends in the Santa Margarita area until they can find a permanent place to live, and a GoFundMe has been set up to help them. As of Wednesday afternoon, it had raised $6,385 of a $100,000 goal.
“I’m sure Cal Fire had their hands full and were doing everything they could with what they had,” Mickey Bruce said of the fire that claimed his home. “All we can think is that our house was sacrificed to save many others.”
The Bruces ask anyone who sees either cat to email firstname.lastname@example.org.