Like many folks living in the devastating path of California’s recent wildfires, Natasha Wallace had just minutes to escape.
But she didn’t forget to bring with her the one thing that matters most.
Wallace, a college student in Santa Rosa, had been on campus studying when the fire broke out. As she drove home shortly after 1 a.m., Wallace could see a massive wall of flames raging across the freeway and, for a moment, pulled over to take a look. It was then she realized that, given the fire’s speed and intensity, her life was in danger — and she needed to get out while she still had time.
“It was like a flamethrower,” Wallace told The Dodo. “I knew how fast the fire was going. It was really scary.”
Wallace continued back to her house and hurriedly packed a few bags. She put her dog, Bentley, in the car with her things and they began to drive away — but the traffic was so snarled leaving her neighborhood that they could go no farther.
“I sat in my car for about two minutes, and I could see the fire getting closer. I said, ‘I’m not burning in my car,’” Wallace recalled. “So, I turned around and went back to the house.”
It was then she decided to ride her bicycle to safety instead, ditching nearly all her possessions to make room for the most precious cargo of all: “I knew the only thing that mattered was my dog. That was it,” Wallace said.
“I emptied out a duffel bag that had clothes and some of my belongings,” she said. “I told Bentley to sit inside, and he just hopped right in. It’s like he understood the situation. He knew something was wrong.”
Wallace then hung the bag containing her 70-pound pup around her neck, and began pedaling.
“It was hard. I was trying to avoid the branches and everything on the road. The first 2 miles were OK. I was going off pure adrenaline, or supermom strength,” she said. “Bentley just sat there the whole time, like a super good boy. His well-being was the only thing I cared about at that point.”
Eventually, a person in a truck spotted Wallace and Bentley and stopped to give them a ride the rest of the way out. They were safe, but like many folks in the region, Wallace lost her home and virtually everything she owns.
The last few days have been trying, to say the least, but this time Bentley has been helping her through.
“He’s been wonderful to cope with,” Wallace said. “When I was at the shelter, all I had was my dog. I literally just hugged my dog this whole time.”
Wallace and Bentley are now staying with relatives as she begins to move forward. It’s still difficult to comprehend all that was lost in the fire, but Wallace knows the most important thing was saved:
“You can pack hundreds of dollars worth of material things, but my dog is priceless.”