CHRISTMAS, Fla. — The couple who brought in the 4-day-old fawn said it was the only life they found in a blackened, scorched forest.
The baby deer, appropriately named Blaze, has four burned hooves from the fires in northeast and east-central Florida. The tawny, white-spotted animal is one of many creatures--wild and domestic--now crowding rehabilitation centers and shelters.
Many pets were left behind as people hurried to safety. Animals were spotted migrating along the highways, and many people returning home from shelters and hotels were greeted by snakes.
"They are coming out of what is left of the woods, and they are going to be hit by cars and they are going to get into trouble," said Carmen Shaw, who runs Back to Nature Inc. wildlife refuge.
Blaze curled up in a baby's playpen at the center last Monday. When the fawn was found over the weekend after a fire near this Orange County town, his umbilical cord was still attached.
"His mother didn't have any choice when the fires came," Shaw said. "She probably ran for her life. She must have experienced a lot of terror."
Across the room from Blaze was another refugee, Smokey the raccoon. Also an infant, no bigger than a sock puppet, he was the only survivor of his litter--rescued by firefighters near Geneva two weeks ago.
"They put him in a little milk carton and brought him here," Shaw said.
Starvation is a concern as animals migrate to new places and compete for food. One species especially hard hit by the fires is the threatened gopher tortoise.
Keith Wooster, a wildlife biologist with the U.S. Forest Service, found one tortoise. "It was in the middle of the black forest. It had one strand of green grass in its mouth, and I don't know how it found that," he said.
Wildfires have burned nearly a half million acres of Florida since Memorial Day, mostly rural woodlands and marshes called home by more animals than people.
It's been stressful as well for domestic animals.
"There are some tragedies, animals chained to trees and left behind," said Shelby Terry Wolfe, the animal control agent for Flagler County.
Flagler had 500 animals at shelters during a three-day evacuation that ended Monday, while in nearby Volusia County dozens of stray horses were rounded up in the Ormond Beach area and taken to a ranch. In Brevard County, 600 animals were housed in a tiny shelter, including farm animals and exotics such as iguanas and emus.
Families with pets had a hard time finding places to accept them and their animals. Hotels refused, and so did most shelters.
But the Volusia County Fairgrounds outside DeLand housed about three dozen dogs, a dozen cats and their owners. One woman rocked her Boston terrier for comfort.
"It's good for the animals and it's good for us," said Jay Chiverton who, along with her sister, Betty, had three dogs and two cats at the shelter. "It gives us a sense of normalcy with everything that's happened."