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: William A. Cotton)
(The 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.
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 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. Michele Van Hare was headed to Cheley camp for the summer, as were the two Van Hare children, Sarah and Jason. On Monday, Greg Van Hare said he and his wife told the 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.
For all that they had seen, the horses and donkeys were mostly unscathed. The Percherons' tails had curled from the heat and the hair around Ellie's nose had been singed, but otherwise the animals were in good shape, said Mike Guli.
Brian Miller, one of the Colorado State University veterinarians who checked Ellie at The Ranch, said the singed spots didn't require treatment and were probably caused by nosing around to find safe places to go.
Miller said other horses and livestock had been rescued in groups.
"Some horses and some donkeys kind of have this instinctual thing in them; they know kind of what safety is," he said. "There are some animals that do have that instinctual ability more than others."
While surviving the fire is a pretty great feat in itself for a donkey, Ellie has had a lot of other adventures, according to Mike Guli.
"Over the years, I've seen her do such amazing things," he said. "She pretty much takes care of the other donkey and horses. She's in charge."
As of Saturday, a week after the evacuation of Paradise Park, Ellie and all five of her companions are safe at home in Loveland with the Van Hare family.