Sisters Alyssa, 12, left, Callie, 8, and Taylor Cressey, 11, play with their 3-year-old cat Simba at a relative’s home in Pownal on Friday, a month after they thought they’d lost him in a fire that destroyed their home in Harpswell. The parents saw a Facebook post on Christmas Day seeking the owner of a stray that matched his description. Derek Davis/Staff Photographer Buy this Photo

HARPSWELL — After a fire destroyed their mobile home last month, the Cressey family could not find their beloved cat Simba and assumed he had died in the blaze.

They made a trip to the local animal shelter to see if anyone had turned in a stray and made visits back to the property to look for him, but there were no signs of the fluffy orange feline anywhere.

Firefighters told the family the fire had been so hot it was unlikely Simba’s body would be recovered had he died inside the house.

“I was ready to say, ‘Let it go. He’s gone,’ ” said Brittany Cressey, 32.

Then, on Christmas Day, Cressey and her husband, Wendell Cressey, saw a Facebook post about a stray cat found not far from where they had been living with their three daughters.

It was a glimmer of hope for the family after losing their home and all their belongings in the Nov. 17 fire, which also damaged an adjacent mobile home on Sunset Cove Road.

The cause remains undetermined, but if not for working smoke detectors it would likely have been a fatal fire, according to Harpswell Fire Administrator Arthur Howe III.

Brittany and Wendell Cressey were able to rescue the family’s dog, Gunner, but had no time to find Simba.

The family has been staying with relatives while they look for a new place to live in Harpswell. After nearly six weeks and no sign of the cat, they had all but lost hope.

Then, freezing cold and hungry, Simba showed up at a house less than a mile from the site of the fire at about 1 a.m. Christmas morning. The home owner, Carol Coultas, a Press Herald editor, said her son heard the cat crying under the porch and they set him up in their garage with some blankets and food.

Coultas’ family shared a photo with neighbors, one of whom put it on Facebook in an attempt to find the owners.

The Facebook post on Christmas said the cat was a female, which at first made the Cresseys pause. Simba is a three-year-old male tabby. But then they looked at the photo.

“When I saw their post with the picture I was like, ‘Oh my God, it looks just like him,’ ” Cressey said. “It was definitely a Christmas miracle.”

They went to see the cat Thursday and immediately knew it was true. Simba’s ears were singed and he was missing some of his whiskers.

The Cresseys took him to a veterinarian that afternoon before telling their three daughters, Alyssa, 12; Taylor, 11; and Callie, 8, that they found him.

“The vet told us he was wicked dehydrated,” Cressey said. “Things started to freeze up and we think he went searching for people. He used to be really fat and now there’s nothing to him. We don’t know if he really ate.”

Later Thursday, Cressey captured a video of the reunion between her daughters and Simba, who is shown sitting in a bright pink cat carrier as the girls come into the room.

“Who is it?” Cressey asks them.

“I was right! I was right!” one of the girls says. “Is that Simba?”

Cressey said her oldest daughter, Alyssa, was especially close with the cat and was devastated after the fire.

In the video she puts her head down and starts crying on the bed before taking the cat out of the carrier and snuggling him.

“We’re just happy to have him back,” Cressey said. “It’s been a long month. We love our dog to pieces, but we definitely love our cat, too, and it’s good to have him back.”

She said she didn’t know how Simba, who has been an indoor cat his whole life, survived more than a month outdoors, including during a snowstorm and major rain storm.

Simba has been sleeping a lot since being reunited with his family.

“I’m amazed he made it,” Cressey said. “I honestly wouldn’t have thought he would make it this far.”

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