June 13, 2012
The Colorado High
Park Fire and Us
June 29, 2012
High Park Fire
Pics & Update
July 1, 2012
Our First Trip
Back to "Paradise"
July 12, 2012
Ash Day
Reality Check
August 6, 2012
Progress Report &
Pics on the Fire
August 16, 2012
Before & After
Fire Pics
September 12, 2012
After Fire
Progress Update
September 27, 2012
Work Parties and
Donkey Story
November 29, 2012
OK - The Black
Truth Blog
January 2, 2013
Looking Forward,
Looking Back
June 18, 2013
One Year Later -
The High Park Fire
September 20, 2013
We Weathered
the Storm


The following letter was sent on September 27, 2012:

Work Parties and Donkey Story
Colorado High Park Fire

(contains photos - please be patient as they load)
Two Work Party Weekends!
this weekend and next:
September 29 & 30 and October 6 & 7
Great news! - We've just been approved by the USDA for funding to help cover the cost of some of the debris removal and erosion control on our property. We're going to have two intensive work party weekends to plant grass seed, place straw wattles, and continue the process of cutting, chipping, and hauling away the hundreds of burnt trees on our property.
Please RSVP by clicking here if you want to join us for the fun
We know it's a busy time of year, and the kids are back in school, so we don't expect the sizable turnouts you've blessed us with the last two work days. Any help you wish to give will be humbly welcomed and appreciated, whether it's all day or just for an hour or two, or whether it's one person or a whole team. It's a dirty job, but we have a great time while at it.

Yes, we have a bathroom, electricity, a land phone line, internet, and a working refrigerator.
Please bring munchies for the potluck meals.

Please RSVP by clicking here!
We'll email you detailed directions to our place and our physical address. Campers are welcome. Hope to see you!


Yes, you read correctly! During all the sadness of the fire, people got a "Feel Good Story" in the tale of the "hero" donkey, Ellie, who regretfully had to be left behind in our meadow when Mike and I were told to evacuate. Reporters, both local and national, called us to hear all about it, and the story "went viral," as Mike likes to say. Good news - she made it out safely, and for your reading pleasure, below are photos and the whole scoop...

NEWS FLASH! - Just before sending this email, I was notified that Ellie has been nominated by Pet Aid Colorado for their "Colorado Animal Heroes" award for helping keep her herd safe during the fire. Pretty cool! Best wishes, Ellie!

ELLIE, THE "HERO" DONKEY - For several years, Greg and Michele Van Hare, active Victorian dance friends of ours who run a carriage/wagon business on the side, have boarded their four Percherons and two mammoth donkeys on our pasture during the summer. What sweet, gentle giants. We have enjoyed getting to know their personalities, especially of Ellie, one of the donkeys. While she is the most gentle and loving equine we have ever met, we have also seen her "face down" any creature or thing she viewed as a danger to "her" herd. Throwing those hugely long ears forward, she would calmly and deliberately stride toward the object of her attention, and never once did the perceived threat refuse to back down, whether they be bull elk, moose, neighboring mustangs, or a strange dog.

Michele Van Hare shows off two of the Percherons.

On Saturday, June 9, the fire exploded too fast and too close, and Mike and I were unable to evacuate the huge animals, as the only trailer on the property was a gooseneck, and we were driving a Hyundai and a Chevy van. Having called the Van Hares right away once the evacuation order came in, and knowing they were on their way and almost there to get their animals out, Mike and I pealed out with the smoke cloud looming over us, having reluctantly left the horses in our 25-acre enclosed pasture, with plenty of food, water, and open space. The fire department was already going door to door to get everyone in our neighborhood out ASAP, in fear that the wind could shift and sweep the fire over us all. Unknown to us as we left the property, when we reached the front entrance to Paradise Park, we found the fire department had already closed our road to any and all incoming traffic, including the Van Hares who were less than ten minutes away at that point. I cannot express how distraught I was at leaving those animals behind. In addition to the horses on our property, nine other horses on our neighbors' properties to the east and west of us also had to be left behind by their owners.  

For four long days, we prayed and cried and prayed some more for a miracle for those helpless creatures stuck in the middle of the firestorm. I filed reports with the rescue team of the Humane Society and daily checked with them to see if any news was to be had. The Van Hares had the difficult job of preparing their children for the worst. As if losing our home wasn't enough, it was heartbreaking to think the animals left in our care may have suffered a horrible fate. In the midst of all the other stress and shock we were already going through, I couldn't stop second-guessing my actions that day regarding those poor creatures.

On Sunday we saw on the reports the fire had swept Paradise Park. On Monday morning we were told by the fire chief himself that our neighborhood had burned heavily, and he believed only one or two structures had survived. Still no word on any animal rescues. On Monday afternoon, I was told by the Humane Society that a "posse" had attempted to get up to Paradise Park to check on the horses, but had been refused access as it was still too dangerous. Monday evening, Mike and I heard through the grapevine that our home had indeed burned to the ground. Through all of this, I had to keep calling the Van Hares with the increasingly bad news, and urge them to keep praying for a miracle.

Tuesday we received it! That afternoon, Mike met with the lady organizing the handling of all evacuated animals brought in to The Ranch, the large fairgrounds complex in Loveland. Turns out she knew the Van Hares personally, and we'll probably never know who pulled what strings or if it was simply meant to be, but Tuesday evening we received a phone call from a posse member with the incredible, amazing, wonderful news that all but one of the horses had indeed been rescued from Paradise Park, including those of our neighbors! Hallelujah! One of the draft horses could not be found, but having only one missing was wonderful news! Right after I notified the Van Hares, a second phone call came in saying the missing Percheron had actually been located and brought in earlier in the day. Apparently he had busted out of our pasture and fled over the hill to a neighboring property, where he was found lonely and dejected with a strange herd of other horses. Another hallelujah!

While I had the lady on the line, I asked her, if she could, to please tell me what she had seen while in Paradise Park. Paraphrased, she said, "As we drove in, while a number of houses had definitely burned, we were shocked at how many homes were still standing. I don't know what those firefighters did, but so many houses had been saved. There was black all around, but in the middle of it all was this lush, green meadow where they found all of the horses. It was amazing." I say it was our miracle!

These photos were taken by the rescue posse that day. In this shot, you can see, on the far left, the beginning of the stretch of "lush, green meadow" that continues further on into our pasture where the horses were found. You can still see smoke rising in the background from the ridge off the edge of our property.

It was reported that when the rescuers approached, "...the lead donkey, with singed whiskers, walked up to (the volunteer) and laid her head into his chest," which was just like Ellie!

I had asked the posse member on the first phone call if she thought Greg Van Hare might be allowed to go back in with them the next day to look for the missing horse. She got real hesitant with me, and said she didn't think that would be allowed, as things got "dicey" as they were pulling back out of Paradise Park. The next day, I saw these photographs taken by a fellow posse member, and they weren't kidding. On the last few frames, you can see the smoke billowing up in front of them as they were trying to to leave Paradise Park.

Quite alarming, to be sure, and by the next day the fire department stated they were changing the way the Humane Society was going to proceed with any further animal evacuations, probably due in part to the close call encountered by our own posse, I'm guessing. I was told later that someone had seen seven horse trailers lined up at the entrance to Paradise Park on Tuesday to get in and get all fifteen of those animals out of there. Our humble thanks and grateful appreciation to those unknown volunteers who risked their own necks to save these sweet animals!

Click here to see the full slide show of photos taken by the posse as they drove to and into Paradise Park to rescue the horses.

After seeing early photos of the scorched meadow, I can only cringe at the thought of the hell those poor creatures went through that terrible day of the fire. Imagine their terror as the fire swept around on all sides of them, and the massive heat wave blasted over them with those blowtorch winds, as our house and five outbuildings burned within their sight, as embers dropped down around them and set the meadow on fire, as fire trucks surged in and helicopters roared overhead and men charged about, yelling in the storm as they had to pull out to save their own lives. I get goosebumps even now.

This is what our meadow looked like two weeks after the fire, to give you an idea of what the horses lived through.

At the Ranch, the talented CSU vet team checked over every animal as it was brought in. The horses and donkeys were processed, doctored, and a UPC barcode was slapped on each ashy hindquarter. When we arrived, Mike quickly suggested putting all the Percherons together, pair by pair, into double-wide stalls. How happy the lone Percheron was to be reunited with his "family" again! Ellie and Belle, the donkeys, smelled of smoke and were coated with black soot, poor Belle's nose was quite scorched, and their whiskers were all singed off. Ellie was decidedly not herself, as she stood swaying in the corner of her stall, not even acknowledging our presence at first. This behavior was most unusual from a creature who usually pushed her way in front of you for loving attention every time you stepped into the pasture. I slipped into their stalls and began immediately to pet and love on them, and pretty soon Ellie started to hesitantly nudge me in her familiar way. I was almost in tears.

Ellie's pasture buddy, Belle, enjoys an ash-free meal at The Ranch in Loveland after being evacuated.

That Thursday evening, Mike and I had dinner with the Van Hares to recount the details of the story. In spite of my stress and my doubts, they reassured me we had made the right choice to leave the animals enclosed in the safety and provision of the pasture instead of turning them loose to fend for themselves. In fact, when we had passed each other on the road the day of the fire, they told me they were so relieved to see we had made it out safely, and from that day had given the fate of their beloved animals to God, whatever the outcome would be.

I asked Michele straight out if the animals were okay, as I know smoke inhalation can cause lasting and serious health issues. She said while the eldest Percheron was obviously stressed and wasn't himself, they were all going to be alright. She said all four of the Percheron's tails were singed, because likely they had turned their butts to the blowing wall of heat as it passed over them, as horses are prone to do in a storm. Of most interest to me, however, was that the donkey's noses and insides of their ears were scorched, leading us to believe, just like Ellie had done time and time again, she had "faced down" the danger as it approached the herd. We'll never know exactly what transpired during those terrifying days, but we do know it's extremely likely Ellie did her part in following her instincts as always in leading her herd to safety and facing down anything that threatened them. If it had always worked in the past, why not face down a forest fire, too?...

If you do a Google search under ellie the donkey high park fire, you'll find over eight pages of links about Ellie. Here's just a few...

Closing note: The Van Hares are looking for a new home for Belle, who is also very loving and gentle. If you know anyone who is interested, here's their Craigs List ad: They can be reached at 970-663-4201.

Hope you enjoyed the story, and hope to see you soon!
Sharon & Mike Guli
PO Box 127
Bellvue, CO 80512