BRIAROAKS, Texas - Children have climbed the trees in Briaroaks hundreds of times, but they've never had a story like this. A giant cottonwood tree swallowed little Anna Beams.
"I tried to climb back out of there, but my feet slipped, and I ended up going head first about 30 feet into the ground," Anna recalled.
She still has the scratches on her arms and legs.
Her sister, Abbie, still can't believe Anna went through a hole 30 feet up on the tree. Anna squeezed in where a huge branch had broken off, and fell all the way to base of the tree.
Her mom didn't believe it either.
"And then Abbie explained to me that she had shined a flashlight down into that hole, and that it went all the way to the ground," Christy Beams said. "And I was like, 'Oh, she really is in the bottom of the tree.'"
Christy called her husband, who raced home from work. They tried to reach Anna with their own ladder and rope, but after two hours, they had to call 911.
The Briaroaks Volunteer Fire Department answered the call.
"The opening of this tree was probably like this," said Deputy Chief Gregg Marsh, holding his hands less than shoulder width apart. "Certainly not something any of us are going to be able to go down into. None of us are going to be able to fit down this hole."
It took nearly the entire department to find the solution.
The tree was too unstable for chainsaws, and they made that an absolute last resort. They weren't sure which way the tree would fall, or if Anna would be safe inside. And no one really knew how healthy Anna might be.
They climbed the department ladders 24 feet to peer in the hole, and lowered their ropes, only to come up just short of pulling her to the top.
Five hours into the ordeal, Cleburne brought in a taller, 35-foot ladder to act as a pulley for the ropes, and firefighters convinced Anna to tie her own rescue harness.
"We were really worried about that," said Chief Bryan Jamison. "We didn't know if she was going to start going downhill, and we would have to do something more drastic and immediate to get her out of that tree."
Anna never panicked. After blacking out at the bottom, she says she saw heaven and heard voices. She was safe when she saw the firefighter's rope.
"The only way I knew what to grab hold of was because of my guardian angel's light," said the 9-year-old girl.
Christy remembers seeing Anna's head finally poke out the top of the tree.
"Then she yawns and takes a real big deep yawn and pushes her hair behind her ear," the mother said. "And I thought, 'She is going to be just fine.'"
Firefighters were just as relieved.
"We were high-fiving and all that stuff, because it was a big day," Jamison said. "It's big for us. For any fire department, but especially for a small volunteer fire department like this."
Anna spent the night in the hospital with a possible concussion. Once her bruises heal, she says she'll head back to the woods.
"I love to climb trees," she said.
And her Dad has promised to cut down the cottonwood, to make sure she doesn't venture into that hole again.