Spotting smoke will trigger a gut-level reaction in many Central Oregonians. Whether from a wildfire, prescribed burn or property fire, smoke means fire and fire means potential danger. For one mother and daughter heading home to Sisters from Prineville, the sight of smoke compelled an immediate response.

Tuesday, April 9, was a day four people will never forget. Life changed dramatically for a couple who would end up losing their home to a fast-burning house fire. That same day, Amy and Madilyn (Madi) Larrabee were experiencing several unexpected alterations in their schedule; changes that positioned them for great purpose. Timing brought these two families together; human and equine lives were kept safe that day and Amy believes it was due to “God’s divine timing.”

It all began when a softball game in Prineville was called early. An injured teammate then needed to be dropped off. Kids were hungry. Madi’s younger sibling needed a potty stop, and an excruciating back condition caused Amy to postpone shopping for a horse trailer before heading home. Each unplanned shift led to one life-changing appointment.

Madi had taken over driving so that her mom could recline in a more comfortable position. Shortly after passing Cline Falls, she spotted smoke coming from a rural residence. After pulling over, they both realized that this was more than just a burn pile.

Windy conditions and proximity to a barn triggered an immediate response. Madi, despite wearing Birkenstock sandals, started running and climbing fences to get to the barn. Amy dialed 9-1-1 and rushed to catch up. She needed to make sure her daughter was safe. Inside the barn, Madi found two nervous horses and scrambled to find halters and an escape route. Smoke was coming toward the barn and prompted a heightened sense of urgency. After struggling to get around locked paddocks, Madi successfully led one horse out while a passerby turned loose a second horse. Parked nearby was a horse trailer still hitched to a truck with keys inside — a provision allowing the horses to be loaded and later moved to a safer location.

After making sure her daughter was safe, Amy ran to the house that was now burning. A woman had just stepped outside; their TV had stopped working and her husband had asked her to check the satellite. As she became aware of flames in the carport, she stood frozen in shock. Amy’s eyes moved from her to a man in a wheelchair on the porch, trying to stand but unable to walk down the stairs. Adrenaline had already kicked in, and without any thought to her back condition, Amy ran to help. Realizing that she would need to “piggyback” the man down the stairs to safety, Amy did what was necessary. Once on the gravel driveway, another bystander helped to get the man into his wheelchair and away from the fire, which was mere feet away. Within moments, the house was fully engulfed in flames.

Fire trucks arrived and worked to prevent the fire from spreading. The home was lost, so their efforts were directed to keep neighboring residences protected. Amy remained with the teary-eyed couple as they stood by, watching their home of many years disappear before their eyes. Madi continued to check on the horses while also staying focused on her sister and the homeowners. Hours went by but Amy knew they had

to stay.

Madi could never have imagined that taking an Emergency Medical Service class at Sisters High School would prepare her for this day. That, along with her own personal horse experience, equipped her to stay calm and do what needed to be done for the horses. Amy, despite debilitating back pain, focused on the wellbeing of the people involved and accessed unimaginable strength to respond as needed. Without a moment’s hesitation, both did exactly what needed to be done and became heroes

that day.

Strangers only hours before, these four people had a connection that ran even deeper than they knew. Amy found out later that the people she had helped to save were the parents of her cousin’s friends. Strangers, and yet not.

The smoke from that day has cleared and despite losing their home, belongings and two cats, the homeowners are so grateful to this mother and daughter who not only kept them safe, but also stayed by their sides. Amy and Madi are grateful, too; grateful for each small change of plans that placed them right where they were needed most.