A Leader Under Pressure: DCHS Grad & The Marshall Fire

A Leader Under Pressure: How One DCHS Grad Stepped Up During the Marshall Fire
Posted on 03/08/2022

When the Marshall Fire broke out in Superior, CO, on December 30, 2021, businesses and homes were consumed in flames, with many families forced to leave their beloved pets behind. One Douglas County High School graduate, Ellie Creasey, took on an extraordinary role in reuniting families with their furry friends.

Can you share some of your background?
Sure. I graduated from Douglas County High School in 2018, and I am currently attending the University of Colorado Boulder. I am about to graduate this spring with degrees in political science and history. I work for Dog Tag, a dog boarding and daycare in Superior.

The Marshall Fire happened on Thursday, December 30, 2021. How did that day start for you?
That morning I worked a pretty normal shift. Nothing crazy. I left around 11:00 a.m. to get some lunch and was going to come back in the afternoon. Dog Tag is just a normal dog boarding facility. Since it was Christmas break, we had 40 dogs boarding. Our maximum capacity was around 45 dogs. We were very busy.

Just before noon, the fire broke out. I got a text from my boss, who lives next door to our facility. She said, “Hey, this field right behind us is glowing orange. That’s a fire.” I figured I would head back over as I planned. We had no idea that the fire was going to be as big as it was.

Did you go back to Dog Tag?
No, I didn’t. I immediately tried to go back, and the roads were already closed. Our facility is on Marshall Road. You can see the start of the Marshall Fire from our property. Crews closed Marshall Road immediately because the fire was on the west side of the road. I sat on the side of the road for 40 minutes, pleading with emergency responders. They wouldn’t let me go through, which was good for my safety. I was just kind of helpless at that point.

Were the dogs evacuated?
Yes! The owner initially evacuated ten dogs in the back of her SUV, including three Golden Retrievers and a huge St. Bernard. She let out the 30 remaining dogs into the yard, the area they would go to play during a normal day. The yard is covered in small pea gravel, which the fire could not get onto. She then turned on all the water spigots and flooded the pea gravel. There was no grass, so the dogs had to stay in the gravel area. She was a genius. She ended up saving a lot of dogs’ lives. Eventually, the fences burned down, but Animal Control got to the facility by that point.

What happened next?
The owner took the ten dogs in her car to a neighboring boarding facility about 10 miles away. Her eyes were really burned. She said that by the time she was evacuating the dogs, the fire was 20 feet away. With the high temperatures and ash, she was not able to do any more work.

This was when you stepped in?
Yes. I live in Boulder and out of the evacuation zone. So I got to work in my little house on my computer. I called every Humane Society, every emergency line, just trying to figure out where the remaining 30 dogs were. I found out which dogs were evacuated by Animal Control. I called their owners, telling them their dog was safe. I was just in our database calling everyone from my personal phone.

What about the dogs who hadn’t been found?
After I contacted the owners whose dogs were found, I started calling the owners whose dogs weren’t found yet. It sucked. It was awful. I hated it. Luckily, everybody was so kind. Nobody was mean to me. They just wanted to know where their dogs were and make sure they were safe. They were very thankful that I was doing everything from where I was. It made the process so much better for me.

Did you keep searching?
Absolutely. I put my number on this Facebook group called Marshall Fire Lost Pets. I posted in there some descriptions of the dogs that were missing. When I joined the group had 100 members, and by the end of the night, that group had around 15,000 members. Using that group saved a lot of dogs’ lives, and I ended up learning where a lot of them were because of it.

At around 5:30 p.m., I found out the Boulder Humane Society had 15 of our dogs, which was a huge relief because it confirmed that Animal Control got to the facility. They drove these white cargo vans, and they took every dog that would come to them. But some of the dogs had to be left because they were very frightened dogs. They were even skittish around us, so of course, they would not have gone to Animal Control.

What about the dogs that did not go with Animal Control?
It wasn’t until 11:00 p.m. that I got another call. It was from some college-aged boys, maybe high school students. They said they made it to the Dog Tag property and that they had a couple of the dogs. I picked the dogs up from the boys in Louisville. It was a little Golden Doodle and Chihuahua. These are dogs I’ve known forever, and I was so happy to see them. I brought them to my house in Boulder and gave them baths, my cat’s wet food, and a warm bed. I didn’t sleep that night. I was afraid that one of the dogs might have smoke in their lungs, or they might have been sick. I wanted to be ready to drive to the emergency vet at 4:00 a.m. So I didn’t sleep. I just sat there with them.

The last and final dog to be found was Jedi, a cattle dog. He was very skittish. The boys who found the Golden Doodle and Chihuahua saw Jedi, but he wouldn’t come with them. I called Jedi’s owner, and he actually went to Dog Tag, probably the same way the boys did.

How did the day end?
By midnight, all of the dogs were safe. In the span of 18 hours, all of our dogs were found. It’s incredible. We were so lucky!

What is next for you and Dog Tag?
The actual facility survived, which is a miracle. It’s significantly damaged from ash and smoke. Some of our storage sheds burned down, but there were no dogs or significant infrastructure in them.

I’m working from home now. We can’t do doggy daycare, but I’m responding to email and updating our database so our reopening will go smoothly.

Do you have any positive takeaways from the experience?
The day was a very stressful way to bring in a new year. But I’m so thankful the dogs are safe and that I could help as much as I did. A lot of the other employees live in Louisville and Superior. They were evacuating, and they had no means of sitting down on a computer and working things out. I’m really proud of myself for holding my composure.

Why did you decide to take on such a big leadership role?
I think helping was the natural thing to do. I was the only one that could stand up. I was the only one that had access to our systems from my personal computer because I had worked from home in the past. When I couldn’t physically rescue any dogs, I felt like I had to be doing something else. And yeah, all the responsibility fell on me, and I am totally fine with that. I do kind of thrive in high-stress situations. I’ve always been good at that, so I think that it was a great opportunity for me to step up and take on the responsibility.

Can you share an example of another high-stress situation where you performed well?
It isn’t nearly as of the same magnitude! Since high school, I’ve been a master procrastinator. My friend group always makes a joke that I can pump out a 10-page paper in two hours. And I can! I guess that kind of prepared me to perform under pressure.

How does this whole experience make you think about your future?
I’ve always wanted to work in national security. I think that this reaffirmed to me that I am capable of doing that. I’m capable of showing up when I need to and coming up with solutions, of going down the line and making sure that all of the boxes are checked when there are high stakes. I think it gave me the confidence that I actually can do it. There are very few times when you’re in college that you can show yourself that.

Do you have anything else to add?
I’ve always felt insecure that all of my friends have these really prestigious internships. Still, I have to be working because I can’t afford to have unpaid work. My work at Dog Tag is definitely not the same as a professional internship. But even in work that might not seem meaningful, you can showcase your skills and make it meaningful. In any profession, people are going to need to become leaders. I know that everyone can step up, become a leader, and do the right thing using their skills.

What a wonderful story! Congratulations on your upcoming graduation, and thank you for your time.
Sure thing!

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