Wildfire's Tiny Victim Still Recovering

lil smokey
Firefighter Adam Deem knows his little cub is no teddy bear.

He can be cuddled only because he's heavily sedated to treat the second degree burns on his paws. He's badly singed in other places too, CBS News correspondent John Blackstone reports.

When wildfires swept thru California last month the little bear was one of the victims. Deem spotted him painfully trying to walk, while calling for his mother.

"It sounds kind of like, a-waaaaah, a-waaaaah," Deem said.

But no mother answered so when the cub began climbing a tree, Deem made his move.

"I reached out, grabbed him by the scruff of the neck, and pulled him off," Deem said. "He became all claws and teeth at that point."

The little bear kept fighting even as Deem called for help.

"He's going 'aaaaaah!' I'm trying to talk on the radio and he's just going crazy," Deem said.

After more than an hour of struggle the cub finally calmed down. Deem gave him a name: Li'l Smokey.

"I couldn't leave him. I just couldn't in my own heart say, 'I left that bear out there to die,'" he said.

And Li'l Smokey is a fighter.

"He's fighting, yeah," said Dr. Kevin Willits of the Lake Tahoe Wildlife Care center.

Now at a wildlife care center in Lake Tahoe, Li'l Smokey is being treated by a team that's happy he'll bite and scratch if they try to treat him when he's not sedated.

"We don't want him to be imprinted on us," Willits said. "We don't want him to be looking for people as a handout or a source for food in the future. So the more he dislikes us, the better."

Learn more of Li'l Smokey's story at Couric & Co. blog.
In spite of his improving health, there's still a big question: whether Li'l Smokey will ever heal enough to return to where he belongs - in the wild.

To be released his claws will have to regenerate, his paw pads grow back. Adam Deem hopes his time in captivity is short.

"He doesn't belong where people live," Deem said. "He belongs in the wild and that's, you know. That's what everybody here's goal is and … that's great."

But for now there's no denying it's a treat to give the sleepy cub a gentle cuddle.

  • John Blackstone
    John Blackstone

    From his base in San Francisco, CBS News correspondent John Blackstone covers breaking stories throughout the West. That often means he is on the scene of wildfires, earthquakes, floods, hurricanes and rumbling volcanoes. He also reports on the high-tech industry in Silicon Valley and on social and economic trends that frequently begin in the West.