On March 30, 1996, Scarlett and her five kittens were in an abandoned garage in Brooklyn when a fire started from undetermined causes. Firefighters on the scene noticed Scarlett carrying her kittens away from the garage one by one.
She rescued her brood from the burning building and, as she could carry only one kitten out at a time, so she must have made five separate journeys into the thick, choking smoke and blistering heat in order to do so. Her devotion, courage and persistence were almost unbelievable. Scarlett herself had been severely burned in the process of pulling her kittens from the fire. Her eyes were blistered shut, her ears and paws burned, and her coat highly singed. The majority of her facial hair had been burnt away.
Even though her eyes were blistered shut, she counted her babies by touching each with her nose, making sure all were there, before herself lapsing into unconsciousness. The whole family was taken to the North Shore Animal League facility at Port Washington, Long Island.
They were treated for burns and smoke inhalation and placed in an oxygen chamber in intensive care. As well as her swollen eyes, the mother’s ears were seriously burned, her paws scorched and her fur singed. The name Scarlett for her came about because her actions in saving her family recalled those of Scarlett O’Hara in the epic film Gone with the Wind; but also because of the red patches of skin visible through the burnt fur. Her eyes gradually regained their sight, although it was necessary for surgeons to replace one of her eyelids. One kitten (named Toasty) unfortunately fell ill and in its weakened state could not be saved, but the other four were restored to health and after some three months were ready to be rehomed.
Scarlett died on October 11, 2008, while with her adoptive family in Brooklyn. She required ongoing care as a result of her injuries, and shortly before her death she was diagnosed with a heart murmur. She eventually died of multiple illnesses.