A California nurse shared chilling details about the harrowing hours she and fellow medical staff spent evacuating a burning hospital and working to save their patients as deadly fires ravage parts of the state.
Tamara Ferguson, a labor and delivery nurse at Adventist Health Feather River in Paradise, California, wrote in a Facebook post last week that she saw an “orange glow outside” when she arrived at work on Thursday, but was told the growing Camp Fire wasn’t “super close.”
“Within an hour or less, I was going room to room telling moms and dads to get up, wrap their babies and we had to go,” Ferguson recalled in the post detailing the day’s events. “Wrap their babies up and we had to go..no time to grab personal belongings …we raced towards the ER and lined up.”
Ferguson wrote that the patients included a mother who had just given birth via C-section, elderly men and women and other “critical” patients. As the workers rushed to put patients into ambulances and even their own cars, they watched the Camp Fire wreak havoc on the hospital.
The Camp Fire is one of three devastating California wildfires — two in the south and one in the north — that have forced over a quarter of a million people who were in harm’s way to evacuate from their homes, some of which were destroyed in the blazes. The Camp Fire burned through 113,000 acres and was only 25 percent contained by Monday.
The crew planned to take patients to the nearby Enloe Medical Center in Chico, Ferguson wrote. But as they traveled, she and her colleagues learned that one of the ambulances was on fire.
“We turned down a road into a driveway and stopped,” Ferguson continued in her post. “We all got out of the ambulance, and moved patients to the garage of the only house not burning, layed (sic) them down and tried to reassure their scared faces, while hiding ours.”
She said she was “scared, hopeless, and desperate,” as she watched the flames surround the home where they had taken the patients. However, she and another staff member, Chrissy, did all they could to help clear the smaller flames and provide patients with food and water.
“We need to save our patients and ourselves, if we were going to die today we would at least do it protecting others and do everything we can to live and we did!” she continued.
Ferguson says she feared for her life. She wrote in her post that she called her family and friends, saying her final goodbyes and telling her mother that she “didn’t want to die.” She recalled a call from her boyfriend, a police officer in the area, who said he was determined to get to her.
“He was calm and told me to breathe and that I wasn’t going to die,” Ferguson recalled, noting that she heard her coworkers calling their loved ones as well. “I told him over and over as I was surrounded by fire, ‘Babe, there’s no way I’m going to survive this.’ “
But she did. The group returned to the Paradise hospital where they rushed to load the patients (and themselves) into waiting sheriff’s vans, police cars, and ambulances to be escorted away from the burning hospital once and for all.
“We were an Awesome team of mostly strangers doing whatever we could as HAD to and we did phenomenal! … I honestly couldn’t believe I was alive, that I would see my family, kids, and boyfriend again. I called them and told them I made it,” Ferguson wrote, adding that she “will forever be changed by” that day.
At least 31 people have died so far as several fires burn on both ends of the state, according to CBS News. Several families have lost their homes and personal belongings in the blaze, including Ferguson who has set up a Facebook fundraiser to rebuild.