Colorado State University veterinary students Darcy Moreland and Oneal Peters treat Ellie, a donkey credited with leading her companions to safety and eventually evacuated from the High Park Fire. / Courtesy of William A. Cotton
Ft. Collins, CO (written by Elisabeth Willner/Ft. Collins Coloradoan) -- What can a donkey that has faced down a bull elk, a moose and a bear do to one-up her accomplishments?
Face down the High Park Fire that has burned 92 square miles and destroyed 189 homes since it began June 9.
This past week a 5-year-old mammoth donkey named Ellie saved herself, three Percheron draft horses and another donkey from the wildfire burning west of Fort Collins.
As the fire burned into Paradise Park, forcing residents to evacuate, Ellie and the other animals kept calm in an area pasture.
By the time Larimer County sheriff's deputies and volunteers arrived three days later to evacuate the five animals to The Ranch in nearby Loveland, they found the animals grouped together in the same area where they had been left.
One other horse had fled to a nearby pasture, but the five, including Ellie, were safe.
When help arrived, Ellie walked right up to one of the rescuers and put her head against his chest, said owner Greg Van Hare.
He said he's convinced that Ellie, a "very smart donkey" who loves people, was one of the main reasons all his animals pulled through: She leads the other animals and takes charge in dangerous situations.
"Ellie doesn't put up with crud," Van Hare said, describing one of Ellie's encounters with a couple of neighboring stallions. "She put her ears back and starts walking toward them. She gets about 10 feet away, and the stallions turn and leave. I don't know if its attitude or what it is."
The ordeal with the fire began when Ellie's boarders, Mike and Sharon Guli, had to evacuate from their Paradise Park home and pasture Saturday afternoon.
The couple immediately told Greg and Michele Van Hare, Ellie's Loveland owners, to come get the animals; but by the time the Van Hares made it to Paradise Park, access to the area had been closed.
Although concerned for the animals, the family had to turn back and go home. On Monday, Greg Van Hare said he and his wife told their two children "we're going to trust in God" and let them know that all of the animals were likely lost.
On Tuesday, however, they got a surprise call from the Gulis: five of the six had been rescued and were at the Ranch in Loveland. By the time they got to the Ranch, the sixth had been found.
"It was a mini-miracle," Greg Van Hare said.
"Some horses and some donkeys kind of have this instinctual thing in them; they know kind of what safety is," said Brian Miller, one of the Colorado State University veterinarians who checked Ellie at The Ranch. "There are some animals that do have that instinctual ability more than others."
Fire containment reached its highest level yet Monday, at 50 percent. The blaze -- the most destructive in Colorado history -- grew 2,290 acres Monday to 58,770 acres.
A formal assessment to confirm addresses of the 189 homes lost in the blaze is expected to begin Tuesday, when the weather is forecast to be cooler but with possibly stronger winds. One person died at her burned cabin June 11, and there have been no other deaths or serious injuries reported.