REDDING, Calif. – Amid the rubble, the air thick with smoke, sat Ella, the border collie.
Her paws were burned and she was exhausted. For nearly two days, Ella did what Ella does: protect those she loves.
Her own family’s home was gone, but one single neighbor’s home was standing. So Ella waited there.
The Copsey family was forced to evacuate their Paradise, California home as the swift-moving fire tore through their neighborhood.
In the midst of chaos, owner Leahna Copsey thought about Ella and hoped for the best. But they had to go.
As Leahna and her children fled down the road, what she thought were merely headlights became bright orange flames. Her daughter, Clarisa, 8, complained of the heat on her face.
Were they going to die? she asked.
Copsey knew they might not have a home or Ella to go back to.
Just a precaution
When Copsey noticed black clouds outside from a window in her Paradise home, she didn’t think much of it. She had read on her Facebook weather page that a small fire had broken out in the hills and thought it would be taken care of soon.
As the morning progressed, Copsey began to paint the ceiling in her master bedroom. The next day new carpet would be delivered and then she and husband Mike Copsey would be able to move back into space.
The sky continued to darken.
“I thought it was raining,” she said. “I went and put my hands out and charcoal fell from the trees.”
That got her moving. As a precaution, Copsey packed up some odds and ends, including the girls’ school books. They’d do homework in Chico until the evacuation was lifted.
They had just gone through this the year before.
That time, the family filled their car with clothing, food and other necessities. It was “packed full,” 10-year-old Emma Copsey remembers.
This go-round, they didn’t want to take the time. The fire was nowhere near their home and they hadn’t been ordered to evacuate.
But this fire wasn’t like the others.
And it wasn’t long before a quick drive down the road became a nearly three-hour fight for their lives. The family battled bottlenecked traffic, flames on either side of their car and smoke.
“All you could see was where the fire wasn’t,” Copsey said. “It was like something out of a movie. They had no idea where the fire was, and for it to jump like that – it was unreal.”
The family managed to escape the blaze and settled in lower Lake County, nearly two hours away from their home, to wait it out.
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