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Severely burned bear finally ready to return to the wild

WENATCHEE, Wash. -- A black bear rescued from Washington's largest ever wildfire is about to be free again.

The bear was starving and severely burned in the Carlton Complex of fires, and there were serious concerns about her chances for survival. But as Wildlife Biologist Rich Beausoleil got his first look at the bear in months, he was happy with what he saw.

"She looks amazing," he said.

This is the closest the bear, now named Cinder, has been to her home territory in the Methow Valley in nearly a year. It's almost hard to believe the 124 pound bear is the same one who was rescued from the fire last August.

"Isn't that something?" Beausoleil said as he examined her paws. " Some of these claws in the front, there was only two. And now there's all five again."

Those claws are key for Cinder to be able to climb trees and forage for food. When she was suffering from third degree burns, Cinder couldn't even walk. A volunteer pilot flew her to the Lake Tahoe Wildlife Center in California, where a team treated her injuries. Then, six months ago, Cinder moved to Idaho Black Bear Rehab.

As her food was slowly reduced before the winter, natural instincts kicked in, and she denned up. When she came out, she was with two other bears -- one from Wyoming and a cub that had been orphaned near Leavenworth.

"When they came out of the den, the Wyoming bear got a little pushy," Beausoleil explained. "Cinder stepped in. 'I'm going to keep the peace. I don't like what's happening here, back off.'"

Ever since, the smaller bear stuck by Cinder's side. The two will be released together. Beausoleil says they might stay together anywhere from two days to two months, but because they are solitary animals, he's certain they'll eventually separate.

He should know where both wind up. The bears are collared with GPS units that will send back information. The collars are designed to eventually fall off as the bear grows, but the hope is they will last long enough to track the animals' progress. Two winters from now, Beausoleil hopes to track Cinder to her den with help from the collar.

"We don't know what the outcomes going to be, but we're going to give her the best chance possible we're putting her in a great spot where she's going to make a heck of a living," he said.

And based on how she cared for the smaller bear, Beausoleil says thriving could include having her own cubs.

"She has that motherly instinct and she's probably going to be a pretty good first time mom. Maybe next year or the year after she'll wind up having cubs of her own. I hope she's still collared and we can document it," he said.

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