The wildfires that recently plagued California had gone from bad to worse. A family jumped in their car with pain in their hearts. They weren’t sure where their border collie, Ella, was. Forced with a difficult decision, they left her behind. They had no idea if they would make it, but they were sure of one thing; they were out of time.
She started her day by painting the ceiling of her master bedroom. The new carpets were scheduled to arrive the following day. She took a quick coffee break and checked her Facebook. Then, she read that a small wildfire had started in the hills. This haunted her thoughts even as she went back to her remodeling project. But she was unaware of the growing fire or the threat approaching her doorstep.
They had packed a few supplies, including their girl’s school books. The evacuation order hadn’t come through yet, so they didn’t take any further precautions. After all, the fire was ‘“…a whole bridge away from where we live in Paradise,” according to their 24-year-old daughter Kayla. To be on the safe side, Leanha placed her two daughters, Clarissa, 8, and Emma, 10, into the car. She assumed they’d be returning home soon.
She took a look through her window and saw a series of black clouds in the sky. Leanha thought that a major storm was coming when she went outside. When she stuck her hand out, she noticed that that the drizzle falling from above was soot and ash, not raindrops. So, she jumped into action.
It dawned on her that the huge cloud was not created by moisture but by smoke and flames from the approaching fire. As the winds picked up, Leanha rushed to get her entire family in the car. Their time was running out. The area where the fire started was close to the town of Paradise, which meant, the flames were on their tail. To make things worse, the winds were causing the fire to jump from the woods to the neighborhood homes.
When the California wildfires spread, residents were forced to evacuate. Many of them left their homes, not knowing if they’d ever see them again. But material things can be replaced. Unfortunately, a life can’t be. This is why the family was so concerned.
The evacuation warning was given at 4 pm, but this was unlike anything anyone had ever experienced. Within hours, the entire town was in a panic as they took to the roads to escape the approaching threat. This led to bumper-to-bumper traffic that stalled everyone. Meanwhile, the powerful winds brought the fire inches closer to the road.
Leanha was under the mistaken assumption that she would be able to head home to collect some more things, and that included her brown and white border collie named Ella. But as the flames nipped at their tires on the congested road, she, like many others, realized that they wouldn’t be able to come home, which meant Ella was on her own. But the family had an idea to save their pup.
Leanha’s eldest daughter, Kayla, was driving from Sacramento to Paradise. So, she was prepared to pick up some more belongings, including Ella. But the fires spread and the situation in Paradise became unpredictable. This made it impossible for Kayla to reach the house. Then, the situation became even more concerning.
“There’s people all of a sudden running out of their cars because traffic’s not moving and the fire, all of a sudden, was that close. Nobody really knew it was going to jump that quickly when all of us were thinking. ‘Oh, it’s aways away, we have a day or more,’ you know?” explained Kayla while imagining how devastated her family would be when they learned that Ella was all alone. But who could save her?
If you find yourself trapped in a wildfire, the first thing you have to do is call 911 and tell authorities where you are. Then, fill sinks and tubs with cold water and stay away from outside walls and windows. This might sound easy when you’re a human, but when you’re a pet, all you can do is hope for the best.
Leanha reached out to the authorities to see if they could find and rescue Ella. But the only one capable of helping was Animal Control. And all they could do was leave the pooch some food and water because they couldn’t find the border collie anywhere. The only option the family had now was to hope for the best as they raced out of town before the flames consumed everything.
Two days had passed and thousands of people were displaced. But Katrina Woodcox, executive director of the Butte Humane Society, was willing and able to lend a hand. “I just thought we need to create a pet supply and food pantry,” she explained. “Our focus at the humane society is to think about the immediate needs of the evacuees and really anybody affected by the fire.”
The fires swarmed through the town, and when it passed, there was little or nothing left of Paradise. Heartbroken, the family headed back to what was once their neighborhood. Then, they saw something shocking. There was only one house that Ella would have recognized in all the maelstrom, and miraculously, it was still standing. Did this mean she was okay too?
Ella walked out of the last remaining home in the neighborhood. Her whiskers were singed and her paws were burnt, but she was alive. Not only had she survived the fire, but she avoided suffering any irreparable damage. She was however, quite thirsty. Despite the loss of their home, the family was elated to know Ella was safe, and she was going to cause a huge stir on social media.
The Copsey family created a GoFundMe page that caused growing interest on the displaced family and their pet. These people had the clothes on their backs and not much else. They certainly couldn’t provide for their pet. But Ella stirred the hearts of many, and we can only hope that this will continue to lead to an outpouring of support and donations.
The Butte Humane Society received pet food and supplies by the truckloads. The organization is home to over 100 cats, and with over 1,700 animals being looked after at shelters throughout Chico, all donations are welcomed, regardless of how big or small the contribution is.
The family managed to raise $2,000 for Ella. This amount will be used to pay for the pooch’s vet visits. Any extra money will hopefully be used to help other homeless animals from Paradise. “The need for supplies is so great, shelters can hardly keep things on the shelves, said Mandy McClaine, pet food, and supply manager. “We have people grabbing beds off FedEx trucks,” added Mandy. “We can’t keep enough beds and crates.”
Losing everything to a wildfire can be as emotionally scarring to an animal as it is to a human. Animals experience fear and anxiety during and after a wildfire. So, most pet owners can expect some form of behavior change brought about by PTSD. But will love and affection help Ella cope with her ordeal?
Kayla claims that Ella is “still super energetic like she always has been. She’s wanting to play. She loves squeaky toys,” she continues, adding that for the time being, the dog is “using her mouth to fling them around” because the poor pooch still can’t use her paws until they heal.
Over a 17-day period, the blaze burned through 153,000 acres of Butte County. Thankfully, the state’s forestry and fire protection agency announced that the forest fire in the area has been 100% contained. It also rained for three days straight, which helped over 1,000 firefighters to put an end to the flames.
Rescuers combed through the charred region to rescue hundreds of animals who somehow survived the deadly flames. It hasn’t been easy, but the searchers have done a remarkable job. But obviously, both domestic and wild animals alike were left shaken by the ordeal.
A lot of pets were misplaced during the wildfires. But with the help of rescuers and volunteers, people and animals alike are hopeful that they’ll be reunited with their loved ones very soon. But identifying pets may be difficult as some of them were singed in the fire. The humans have it pretty rough too.
The future is grim. “When the media goes away and life goes back to normal and kids go back to school, we’re still going to have the occupants of 10,000 homes who have nothing,” Woodcox said”, “I would like to see and hope that our community and beyond our community can support these folks for the next however long it takes.”
While the family continues to pick up the pieces in the wake of the devastating fire, Ella has been staying with Kayla, the family’s eldest daughter. The pooch was both smart and brave, two qualities which undoubtedly helped her to survive the horrible fire. But her positive outcome has undoubtedly given many hope that they can make it through this difficult situation.