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A bright spot in aftermath of Elmwood fire: Cat owner finds Burt and Loni

After a terrible couple of days for one of Buffalo's most well-traveled blocks, there is a small but significant reason to smile.

Burt and Loni have been found.

Burt and Loni are the cats of Michael Bernhardt, who lives at 1076-1078 Elmwood Ave., next door to 1074 Elmwood, which burned almost entirely following a massive fire early Wednesday morning.

Bernhardt awoke at about 2:30 a.m. Wednesday to the sounds of screams and the sight of flames next door. He scrambled to get his dog, Muddy, in his harness and alert his tenants, who safely got out of the three-story building that is diagonally across the street from Pano's On Elmwood.

Through Wednesday morning and afternoon, however, cats Burt and Loni remained missing. Buffalo firefighters allowed him into the building late Wednesday morning to look for the cats, named after Hollywood couple Burt Reynolds and Loni Anderson, to no avail.

Thanks to help from his girlfriend and many friends on Facebook, the word was spread about the missing cats.

A modified version of the poster shared via Facebook to help find cats Burt and Loni (the phone number has been removed).

Bernhardt found Burt on Wednesday afternoon. He went back to his house, where he lives in the second-floor apartment, and found the gray tabby way in the back corner of a closet.

"He was under a huge pile of clothes," Bernhardt said.

But Loni, a tuxedo, remained missing.

At about 7 a.m. Thursday, Bernhardt gave it another try, returning to the closet where he found Burt and calling Loni's name.

That's when he said he heard "a quiet meow."

Soon after he said he noticed some fur on some exposed nails by a cold air return, essentially an opening in the wall which led down to the first floor.

Hearing Loni's meows, Bernhardt went down to the first floor and followed the path of the return.

Then he started busting into the wall.

"It was just plaster and lathe – I put a hole in the wall, and then her paw comes sticking out of the wall," he said. "So she starts squealing and meowing louder and louder, and I'm pulling the wall out and crying."

Bernhardt said Loni was in good shape after his mom gave her a bath.

Bernhardt had much different plans for this week. He had storage pods scheduled to come Friday for a planned move to Kansas City. He was going to put the house on the market, and then make the drive to Missouri on Saturday.

Those have been postponed by the complications of the fire, organizing cleanup and dealing with his insurance company.

Bernhardt was very grateful that he'll now have all of his pets for his trip. "I'm so happy I found them."

His house suffered extensive damage to its roof and its south-facing wall, while many of the boxes he packed were sitting in water in the house, a result of firefighters battling what was a three-alarm blaze. The fire officials' estimate of damage to the house was $150,000, but Bernhardt said that does not account for the major damage done inside.

One tenant of 1074 Elmwood, 55-year-old Curtis Brown, is still unaccounted for; Thursday there was grim news that cadaver dogs had located human remains at the site of the fire.

Elmwood between Bird and Forest was closed for the better part of Wednesday and Thursday.

'Horrible' scene at Elmwood Avenue fire with three injured, one missing

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