A couple of weeks ago, I shared a story about an ambulance that was stranded by the Camp Fire that burned down Paradise, California. The paramedics and nurses took a stand to fight the fire when help could not arrive in time, saving themselves and the patients depending on them.
Today, I want to share a post by Heather Roebuck, one of those patients. She is the mother of the last baby born in Paradise and this is her side of that terrifying event.
Imagine being trapped in an inferno like that and not being able to get up and help fight it. Imagine being paralyzed and immobile.
Heather had been admitted to the hospital the morning of the fire for a scheduled c-section delivery of her baby girl. 10 minutes after little Halley entered the world, the family was speedily evacuated. She wrote a post on Facebook telling her harrowing story of that day.
It has been two weeks and it still doesn’t seem real. Thursday 11/8/2018, the day of the Camp Fire, was one of the hardest days of my life. Of my family’s life. Today on Thanksgiving, as I reflect on life and all that I’m thankful for, I can’t help thinking about that day. This is faces as we hugged each other and took pictures with our girl.
But joy quickly turned to fear as they announced over the P.A. system that the hospital was being evacuated & all patients needed to be moved to the ER. I was instantly scared and confused. I thought ‘us? They mean us?’, I was still cut open, they couldn’t mean us!’. But they did. The Prepperu2019s Cann... Best Price: $7.60 Buy New $10.92 (as of 06:15 EST - Details)
They quickly closed my incision and we were on our way to the ER with our new baby. It was crazy. People were running through the hallways trying to find loved ones and trying to figure out where they go next. Due to anesthesia, I was unable to move from the waist down so I would have to be evacuated by ambulance. Thank God for our OB nurse Carol who spoke up for Bret and our baby and got them a ride to Enloe with a Sheriff’s Deputy named Kate, who was pregnant herself. Thanks to both of these amazing women who protected my family and got them to safety. Without them, I don’t know how they would’ve made it out!
As for me, I was just coming to grips with the fact that I would be separated from my 10-minute old baby and my husband. We said goodbye with the belief that I was going to be right behind them & we would be meeting at Enloe in Chico. [Here is] my recollection of what happened.
We arrived at Feather River Hospital at 5:30 a.m. for our scheduled c-section. We were a ball of emotions as we nervously waited our 7:30 surgery time. I was just so excited to meet my baby girl!! At the time I had no idea there was a fire. It wasn’t until the doctors and nurses discussed whether or not to do the surgery because of the fire that I found out about it. It was decided that the fire was in a completely different town and so it would be safe to proceed. Little did I know she would be the last baby born at Feather River Hospital.
Halley Ellen Harles was born on Thursday November 8th. She weighed 7.7 lbs and was 19.4 inches long. She was born at 8 a.m. We were so happy!! She’s perfect and I can’t believe I get to be her mom!! Tears of joy ran down our faces as we hugged each other and took pictures with our girl.
Heather and baby Halley
But joy quickly turned to fear as they announced over the P.A. system that the hospital was being evacuated & all patients needed to be moved to the ER. I was instantly scared and confused. I thought ‘us? They mean us?’, I was still cut open, they couldn’t mean us!’. But they did.
They quickly closed my incision and we were on our way to the ER with our new baby. It was crazy. People were running through the hallways trying to find loved ones and trying to figure out where they go next. Due to anesthesia, I was unable to move from the waist down so I would have to be evacuated by ambulance. Thank God for our OB nurse Carol who spoke up for Bret and our baby and got them a ride to Enloe with a Sheriffs Deputy named Kate, who was pregnant herself. Thanks to both of these amazing women who protected my family and got them to safety. Without them, I don’t know how they would’ve made it out!
As for me, I was just coming to grips with the fact that I would be separated from my 10 minute old baby and my husband. We said goodbye with the belief that I was going to be right behind them & we would be meeting at Enloe in Chico. The Prepperu2019s Blue... Best Price: $11.98 Buy New $18.98 (as of 02:20 EST - Details)
I never made it.
It was chaos outside as people were loaded into cars and ambulances. There was already a woman laying on the gurney inside my ambulance and another woman they had placed in the jump seat. In order to fit me inside, I was placed on a backboard and slid on the bench seat that the paramedics usually sit on. There were 2 female EMTs up front and a male paramedic who was standing, “surfing” the space in the back between the other woman and I.
It seemed as though we had only gone a mile before the ambulance stops and one of the female EMTs yells that we are surrounded by fire & have nowhere to go. Then our ambulance…dies. She tries & tries to restart it to no avail. I called Bret to tell him that I was in an ambulance and that the engine had died. The next thing I know everyone is yelling ‘get them out!’ (the patients). So the two female EMTs removed the woman on the gurney and the male paramedic grabbed the woman out of the jump seat to carry her to safety.
It was then that I realized that I was alone…and my ambulance had caught fire. I believed I only had seconds left to live. I accepted the fact that I would never see my children or the man I loved again. I was going to burn alive. I was going to die. I told Bret that the fire was all around me and I wasn’t going to make it. We spoke the last words we thought we would ever say to each other. It was terrible and heartbreaking. Basically, we cried, said we loved each other, I said I loved our kids, that I was so sorry, and said goodbye. It was the hardest moment of my life.
After transferring other patients, the paramedic made it back to the ambulance & he saw that it was on fire. I just started screaming ‘Get me out! Drag me out!!’ Another man, a pediatrician, who happened to be running by in an effort to escape the fire, ran up to see if he could help. He jumped inside to grab the head of my backboard & they got me out of the ambulance in time.
I was set on the ground and there were burning pine needles, leaves, and debris falling over me. As I was still unable to move my lower half, all I could do was pat down the top half of myself and try not to catch fire.
Then the paramedic dragged me next to the vehicle of a fire chief who seemed to have appeared out of nowhere. Thankfully he happened to be nearby monitoring the evacuation and saw that we were in trouble. For the first time, I looked around and saw the terror of my situation. It was morning but the sky was pitch black. The smoke was choking, burning my throat, stinging my eyes and blocking out the sun. It was so loud as propane tanks exploded all around me. It sounded like a war zone. The flames were so high it seemed as though they touched the sky and we were surrounded by them.
Here’s what was left of Heather’s ambulance.
I heard a crash to my left and looked as the first responders broke down a gate to someone’s yard. They gained access to a garage and I was dragged inside. Another ambulance with nurses, patients, and paramedics pulled up behind us and joined our group as well. For a second I felt safe. The illusion of being inside made me feel like the fire couldn’t touch us. I called Bret and updated him & we said we would keep in touch. I watched out of the open side door of the garage as the fire chief gave orders and the paramedics, EMTs, nurses, search and rescue personnel, and a fireman ran frantically searching for water and hoses to defend our position.
I was in awe of them and what they were doing not only to save themselves but me as well. You could see the fear on their faces. But they just kept working. They were digging trenches, watering down the yard and the garage itself to keep it from catching fire. The nurses checked on us & reassured us that we were going to make it. It felt like this went on for hours. I just layed there and tried to stay calm and focus. I was concentrating as hard as I could to move my legs. All I could think was that if something else happened I needed to be able to crawl out. I needed to be able to help save myself. The Prepperu2019s Wate... Best Price: $7.49 Buy New $9.94 (as of 06:00 EST - Details)
I was lucky that my phone worked and I was able to talk to Bret. He was busy with our new baby who I had only gotten to see for a minute before we were separated. I was so thankful that he wasn’t alone. Our sister-in-law is a nurse at Enloe and my grandfather happened to be in Chico so they were able to be with Bret & Halley. I can only imagine how difficult it was for him to be basically alone with our new baby and wondering the entire time whether I was going to live or die.
We were talking on the phone & he was updating me on everything he knew that was going on with the fire. I had sent him my location through google and he had been on the phone with 911 telling them that we were trapped & needed help. He kept calling until they promised help. We got word that they were sending a fire engine to help defend our position. Even with the fire raging all around us, it finally felt like there was hope. Even though the last thing I said to Bret before the phone lines died, was that I thought the house had caught fire.
Thankfully that wasn’t the case. The engine finally arrived and I finally felt somewhat safe.
It seemed as though this nightmare would be over.
But there was a decision to be made. We could either evacuate back to Feather River Hospital or stay and try to defend a house that could potentially become undefendable. Feather River it was. I was unstrapped from my backboard and was put in the front seat of a big grey truck. A man who was Butte County Search and Rescue (owner of the truck) tried to reassure me that we would be ok and tried to lift my spirits. Everyone loaded up in the remaining ambulance, the fire engine, and the truck and we were on our way.
For the first time, I was able to see the level of devastation all around us. It seemed as though everything was either on fire or already destroyed. Burned cars were scattered here and there along the road. Downed power lines webbed across the street. Piles of burnt rubble that was once somebody’s home. Charred earth and vegetation were all that remained. I was born and raised in this town. It was hard to accept that Paradise was gone.
We finally got back to the hospital where we unloaded, said our thank yous, and goodbyes.
We went our separate ways. The emergency workers went back to working and helping people. I was put on another gurney and was treated in the make-shift hospital they had set up outside the E.R. All I could think about was Bret and that I needed to get in touch with him. One man had a cell phone with service and he was able to call Bret and tell him that I was safe and alive. Bret says he can’t remember what he said through the tears, he was just so thankful I was alive.
Just when I believed it was all going to be ok nurses were grabbing my gurney and moving me.
I was told that the fire was heading our way once again and that we were going to take refuge on the helipad. So the doctors and nurses moved all of the patients and equipment. We just sat there waiting, wondering if we were safe. We soon had our answer. We were told we would once be evacuating Feather River Hospital…again.
All of the sudden the parking lot was filled with police and sheriff’s vehicles. Everyone was told if they had their own car to drive it & if not to load up in an officer’s vehicle. I immediately tried to get off my gurney & into a police car. I was told no that I had to be moved by ambulance.
My response was ‘ no way! I am not waiting!!! I came here in the front seat of a giant truck and I am not waiting for an ambulance. I will not get stuck again!!’. Just then an ambulance pulled up. It had the driver & one of the paramedics from my first ambulance. They said ‘she’s coming with us!’. And I was loaded into the front seat of the ambulance.
We were told that Pentz Rd. was open and we would be able to make it out. I was going to make it out. We made our way down Pentz and it was crazy. Again there was nothing but devastation all around us. I can’t describe how gut-wrenching it is to see that level of destruction. It made the trip slow going because the power lines criss-crossed all across the street. Again the paramedics and officers in the caravan of cars risked their lives to get us through. They worked to lower power lines or raise them so we could pass.
Again it seemed like we weren’t going to make it.
We made it through the maze and continued down Pentz. I don’t know if it’s because the trip took awhile or what but all the sudden the fire picked back up. You could feel the intense heat as it was getting closer and closer. Again we were surrounded by it. Again, it seemed like we weren’t going to make it.
We survived this whole day to die right at the end. And BOOM. Like busting through a wall we made it through the fire to safety on the other side. It was over. We were safe. I was going to be okay. The sense of relief was overwhelming. I just thanked God and cried.
I called Bret and told him I had made it out and would be seeing him soon. We came to the overpass to head to Chico & it had already been closed as the fire was already heading in that direction. I panicked because all I could think about was getting to my husband and my baby. We were diverted to Oroville Hospital and from there it’s a blur. I remember arriving at the hospital and getting put in a room but I can’t gauge the details in between. The Pantry Primer: A P... Best Price: $34.00 (as of 05:05 EST - Details)
The best moment was when my husband and baby came through that door.
They had been transferred from Enloe and had finally made it. I couldn’t stop crying & hugging Bret. He is so strong and was with me through this whole ordeal even though physically, we were apart. My love and gratitude for him and our relationship is indescribable. I finally got to hold my daughter. She is so precious, I’m in love and I never want to let her go. I couldn’t wait to see my beautiful son and love on him. I was so happy. Pure joy is all I felt.
I am still struggling with the events of that day. At times it seems like a movie, or a story that happened to someone else, but it is all too real. These things happened to me. To say I have been struggling is an understatement. I am devastated. As are so many. Not everyone made it out that day. Many people’s stories do not have a happy ending. We still don’t know how many lives were lost. My hometown is no more. Paradise is gone, which is a hard reality to face.
But today I’m just thankful. Thankful to the men and women who saved me. They put their lives on the line to save mine. Selfless doesn’t begin to describe them. I’m thankful that I have been able to meet some of them and thank them in person. I hope to know them for the rest of my life. And I hope they know that ‘thank you’ doesn’t begin to cover it. My gratitude is immeasurable. They are heros and I will be forever grateful. I don’t think people realize that alot of these emergency workers lost everything themselves & that they are still out there saving lives and working to keep us safe. They deserve all the support and gratitude in the world!
I also want to thank all of our friends and family for all of their love and support. For all of your sweet messages and thoughtful gifts. To all of the strangers that have identified with me and my story. To all of the people that have helped us, thank you. I am so thankful. I’m so thankful for my family. I’m thankful I’m alive to be with them. That’s not to say that things are back to normal or perfect in any way. But I’m hopeful and thankful for the future.
Reprinted with permission from The Organic Prepper.