One man was driving away from deadly wildfires when he spotted something that stopped him in his tracks. Cycling along the road was a woman who was clearly fleeing too. However, as he pulled up beside her, he noticed she had an animal stuffed into her duffel bag.
Natasha Wallace is a woman with a promising future ahead of her. In 2017 she was a student at Santa Rosa Junior College in California where she was a rising soccer star. In fact, her efforts playing for the college team had already earned her a prestigious sporting award.
However, just because Wallace was shaping up to be a soccer ace didn’t mean she was neglecting her studies. In fact, one night in October 2017, the student was working so hard she didn’t leave college until 2:00 a.m.. It was on her way home from this study session that the athlete spotted something unnerving.
As she made her way down the freeway to the Santa Rosa home she shared with a teammate and their family, she noticed flames making their way towards the city. The blaze had started just hours before but was already consuming large swathes of land across Northern California.
Thanks to her vantage point, Wallace could see that the fire was heading towards her home. Therefore, it was clear to her that she and her neighbors would need to evacuate quickly. “Everything was gray, everything was destroyed and it went for miles,” she told Fox 40 in October 2017.
As a result, Wallace rushed home to alert her housemates and pack up her things. The most important thing for the student to retrieve was her beloved dog, Bentley. “I would never part ways with my dog. Ever,” she said. “That’s my ride or die. Oh my God, literally.”
So, she picked up the four-year-old pit bull and bundled him into her car. But just minutes into their escape she became stuck in a queue of traffic. Glancing ahead, Wallace was horrified to see the route was completely gridlocked.
“[The fire] was coming faster than I could leave in traffic,” Wallace recalled. At this rate there was no way she’d be able to escape the blaze in her car. So, the student came up with a simple yet daring plan to save her and Bentley’s lives. “I went back and got my bike,” she revealed.
While collecting her bicycle, Wallace also picked up a duffel bag. She planned to use it as a makeshift sling to enable her to carry Bentley as she rode. The soccer star gave no thought to the fact her pet weighed 70 pounds and would probably be a difficult passenger.
“I grabbed my dog and I told him, ‘Hey man, this is serious. You need to just sit in the bag.’ And he hopped right in,” Wallace revealed. So, showing fantastic balancing skills, the student made her way down the road while Bentley hung from her neck.
After a few miles a truck driver noticed Wallace and pulled over to ask if she wanted a ride. She agreed and climbed into the vehicle along with Bentley. The pair were now on the way to safety and Wallace couldn’t have been more grateful. “I just want to say thank you to him. Paul Johnson,” she later told the press.
The inferno Wallace and Bentley had ran from would become known as the “Tubbs Fire.” And little did the escapees know it would escalate into the most devastating wildfire in California history. Because, in a matter of days, the blaze destroyed more than 5,600 buildings.
Among them was Wallace’s home. When the student returned to her neighborhood after the fire, all she found was a pile of charred remains. “You don’t even see a resemblance of what it used to be,” she said.
Wallace and the family she lived with had lost near enough everything. But at least they had survived. The Tubbs Fire claimed the lives of at least 22 people across Sonoma and Napa counties. So, in many ways, Wallace and her housemates were among the lucky ones.
Nevertheless, they would still have to rebuild their lives from the bottom up. To help them do so, Wallace set up a crowdfunding campaign on GoFundMe. On her page, she hoped to raise $30,000 to help her get back on track.
“This situation is surreal and completely unexpected,” Wallace explained. “I kept thinking I could get my life back to normal alone because asking for help isn’t easy but without the proper insurance that is seemingly difficult.”
“Finding a place to live with a bigger dog isn’t cheap but that’s the top priority next to new underwear and soccer cleats,” she added. “Literally, anything will help at this point. Love you all and a huge thank you to everyone who has supported me thus far, I am truly blessed.”
Thanks to the media attention Wallace’s amazing escape received, it wasn’t long before donations started to flood in. Within weeks, the crowdfunding campaign had clocked up $26,513. And many of the donors appeared to be animal lovers.
“I would have done the exact same thing to save my dog Stella in a heartbeat. They are a part of the family,” read one comment on the site. Meanwhile, another person added, “So happy you were able to save your beautiful big dog! God Bless! You are my hero!”
But while many praised her for rescuing Bentley, Wallace remained modest. “I didn’t think anything of, you know, throwing him in a bag and taking him with me. […] That was, like, second nature,” she said in a video update. “I just did what I thought had to be done.”