CARDSTON, ALTA. -- A southern Alberta woman who lost everything in an apartment fire last week says she has one thing to be thankful for after discovering her cat survived the blaze.

“This is my miracle kitty,” said Seiyah Brave Rock. “I’m really grateful to the fire department, to get my animal out.”

The fire started early Friday morning on a balcony of a second floor apartment unit in Lethbridge, Alta.

The apartment building, in the 2500 block of Walsh Drive W., contains 36 units and all of the tenants were able to escape, however one firefighter was taken to hospital as a precautionary measure.

Brave Rock wasn’t home when the fire broke out but received a text message from a friend, who said her apartment building was on fire.

“It was terrifying, and the first thing I thought about was my cat,” she said.

By the time Seiyah arrived on scene the fire was out. But she knew her three-month-old cat, TJ (short for Tom Jackson), was likely still locked inside her apartment.

“I was expecting the worst,” admitted Brave Rock.

Brave Rock’s apartment was on the south side of the building, directly across the hall from where the fire started. The unit above hers sustained extensive damage when the fire spread upward, causing the roof to collapse. Siding and roof material was melted on the balcony above her apartment, and firefighters were pouring water into the structure.    

Seiyah’s mother, Ramona Big Head, said from the damage they could see, it was difficult to imagine the animal would be found alive.

“I didn’t want to say to my daughter that I don’t think your cat survived. I was thinking it, but I didn’t want to say it,” she said.

Brave Rock told a Red Cross worker that her cat was still inside the building. She was told firefighters would be checking apartments when it was safe, and that any animals they found would be taken to the Lethbridge Animal Services shelter until the owner could be contacted.

Seiyah said she felt helpless, because no one was being allowed into the building.

“We had to just walk away. It was really hard, really sad. Just scary,” she said.

Big Head said they drove to her house in Cardston, where Seiyah will be staying until she can get re-established. When she checked the animal shelter website, she saw a black cat had been impounded from a manor in west Lethbridge.

“I saw a picture of this cat behind bars, and I showed it to Seiyah, and she says, ‘That’s my baby.’”

The cat had been nicknamed Charcoal by staff at the Lethbridge Animal Shelter.

“We raced back to Lethbridge,” said Big Head. “He smelled a little smoky, but he was OK.”

It’s not known how many pets were inside the building. A spokesperson for Lethbridge Animal Services said only one cat was brought in following the fire.

Seiyah is still waiting to get back into her apartment, to determine if anything can be salvaged. Among her possessions were some scared ceremonial objects and a treasured guitar that she has had since she was 13.

But she is thankful none of her neighbours were hurt, and grateful to the firefighters who risked their lives to put out the fire, and search the heavily damaged building.

“I have never been so happy to see a cat in my life,” said Big Head.

“For a mother to look at her daughter, who lost everything, I think she just needed one good thing that day. And this one good thing was this cat.”

“Those guys are heroes for sure,” said Brave Rock. “Those guys are heroes to me, and to my kitty.”

Ramona said they are also grateful for the help and support of friends and family, who have donated clothing, bedding, towels and personal hygiene items.