BY: PAUL HAMMEL
LINCOLN It’s being called a “miracle kitten.”
A day after a fast-moving wildfire destroyed the rural ranch home of Carolyne and David Ewing south of Gering, the family was allowed a quick visit to the charred remains.
They heard a loud “meow” coming from the blackened debris of a garage. Inside a cinder block, underneath some steel roofing panels that had collapsed, they found a small kitten, slightly burned but alive.
“Its eyebrow was singed, but it was like the miracle kitten,” said the Ewings’ son, Josh.
“The cat is providing some comic relief to keep us from crying,” he said.
The kitten, who had wandered into the Ewings’ ranch a few days before the fire, is now named “Smokey” and is staying in Gering with the displaced family.
Their home was one of three destroyed after lightning strikes sparked fires in the rugged Wildcat Hills south of Gering on Saturday night.
Josh Ewing, who lives in Bluffs, Utah, said his father was texting him Saturday evening as flames bore down on the family ranch, which has been in the family for four generations.
“Whoa, you need to get out of there,” Josh, who is a volunteer firefighter, said he texted in response.
He said his mother, a retired school teacher, evacuated first, but his father, also a retired teacher, stayed and tried to wet down the house. But the electricity had already been cut off, and the ranch well wasn’t working. He was able to cut barbed-wire fences so about 50 cattle could flee.
Flames, pushed by high winds, took only about an hour to reach the family home, which is about 18 miles outside Gering, according to Ewing.
The house had recently undergone a renovation so a 95-year-old grandmother could move in. The structure was a complete loss, the son said. Only a shower stall and a rock chimney remained standing.
Lost in the flames was his mother’s handwritten recipes, along with an 1870s rifle that had been brought to the Panhandle by Josh Ewing’s great-great-grandfather, who homesteaded the land.
“There’s nothing left,” Josh Ewing said, estimating that the family’s insurance will fall a couple hundred thousand dollars short of covering rebuilding costs.
Smokey was checked out by a local veterinarian, and besides singed eyebrows and feet, was OK.
“We need to figure out who the owner is,” Ewing said, guessing that the kitten had wandered alone to his parents’ place from a nearby ranch.
He said his family is feeling “the Nebraska spirit” from friends and neighbors, who have already volunteered to help with the rebuilding effort.
For now, his parents are living with a friend and former school principal, Maurie Deines, and waiting for an insurance adjuster to survey the ruins.
The fire, dubbed the Carson Canyon Fire, burned about 15,000 acres. Firefighters, who at one time numbered about 200, have been leaving the area after mopping up hot spots.
Josh Ewing said his wife and others have set up a Gofundme page to collect donations to help defray the cost of rebuilding the home. As of Friday, it had collected more than $23,000.