The blaze struck so swiftly and mercilessly that it surprised many, including Ella’s family. As a result, they couldn’t reach the dog in time, and the fire spread around her. Ella stood her ground against the advancing flames. Surely her humans would be back sooner or later?
On November 8, 2018, California endured the most devastating wildfire in the history of the state. Witnesses first detected the Camp Fire, as people now refer to it, close to Butte County’s Camp Creek Road. It subsequently spread beyond the control of attending firefighters.
Despite first responders reaching the blaze within ten minutes of the initial report, weather conditions fed the brush fire. California’s dry climate that day, coupled with strong winds, created optimal conditions for the fire’s growth. For the state and its people, however, the results were disastrous.
In fact, the inferno caused somewhere between $7.5 and $10 billion in property damage alone. Flames claimed close to 19,000 structures in all, including many businesses and homes. But although that was no doubt a crushing blow for many, the most heavily felt loss was that of lives.
An estimated 88 people died during the Camp Fire, and a further 17 were injured, including five first responders. Furthermore, Californians aren’t just reeling from the human casualties. The blaze swept animals up in its rapid spread, too.
Social media is full of groups and accounts dedicated to finding pets that might have survived the Camp Fire. In many cases, the disaster spread so quickly that pet owners couldn’t return home in time to save their furbabies. Take the Copsey family, for instance.
Leahna Copsey lives in Paradise, California, with Border Collie Ella, her husband Michael and their daughters: eight-year-old Clarissa and ten-year-old Emma. In addition, she also has a third daughter, Kayla Westman, 24, who was returning from Sacramento at the time of the fire.
On November 18, 2018, Westman told People magazine about her mother’s experiences. The Camp Fire had been burning in nearby Pulga when Copsey noticed the resulting smoke, “which is a whole bridge away from where we live in Paradise,” her daughter explained.
Nevertheless, Copsey was concerned by the smoke and took her daughters to Chico, which is around 12 miles from Paradise. At the time, she had every intention of going back home later that day to collect Ella and some other essentials. Like many people, Copsey had no idea that the fire would grow as quickly it did.
The first indication that something was very wrong came as the mother-of-three made her way out of Paradise. “As soon as my mom and sisters hit the main road, that’s when they realized how serious it was,” Westman said. “They weren’t able to move.”
“There’s people all of a sudden running out of their cars because traffic’s not moving,” Westman continued. “And the fire, all of a sudden, was that close.” She went on to say that everyone just assumed the fire wouldn’t be so close for another day or so.
So the Camp Fire caught the Copseys unawares when it spread to Paradise and, more specifically, their house. The blaze prevented both Copsey and Westman from returning home. In the meantime, however, the advancing flames surrounded Ella, who was still in the property.
Naturally, worry overcame Copsey, so she did everything in her power to get an update on Ella. The family’s concern for her only increased when they began to fear that their house had burned to the ground.
But a friend of the family subsequently reported that the Copseys’ dog had survived the ordeal. The pal spotted her in front of the only neighboring house left standing. In the absence of her own home, then, it seemed that the brave and loyal Ella had guarded the single local property still intact.
“She was protecting it,” Copsey told Visalia Times-Delta in November 2018. “She was protecting the only house left on the block.” Furthermore, she had some guardian angels in the form of the Paradise authorities. Together with animal control, the police force managed to provide Ella with some support.
To be more precise, they delivered Copsey’s furbaby both water and food until animal control collected her. Her rescuers then delivered Ella to an animal hospital, where veterinarians assessed the dog. Miraculously, the collie only suffered minor injuries.
Veterinarians bandaged Ella’s wounds, and the Copsey family went to collect their beloved dog. Westman told People that Ella was “still super energetic, like she always has been.” Unfortunately, however, some social media users have victimized the Copseys about their ordeal.
Westman explained how some of those who’ve heard her family’s story have assumed that they left Ella to the fire. “People are reacting in such a negative way,” she said. “It’s almost like cyberbullying, because they’re just jumping to these conclusions and saying we’re horrible people.”
“And it’s times like this that we all need to all just be with each other, supporting each other, and be as one and not be so against people,” Westman continued. “Especially when they don’t know what happened.”
Regardless, Ella’s recovery has her family relieved. “She’s doing great for what she went through, and what she is going through,” Westman concluded. “There are a lot of other dogs that are in much worse condition, so we’re just really grateful that she came out like she did.”