BUTTE COUNTY, Calif. – When thousands of people eventually return to their Paradise neighborhoods many will not have homes to return to.
But in the case of one family, their home was saved because of an extraordinary effort by a team of strangers to keep hospital patients safe inside of it.
Six-day-old Halle was the last baby born at Feather River Hospital. Just moments after she arrived, the Camp Fire began to surround the building.
“They came over the speaker, ‘Evacuate the hospital. All patients need to be moved,'” recalled Heather Roebuck, Halle’s mother.
“I went to my patients’ rooms and I said, ‘Just grab your baby, we got to go. Just grab your baby, there’s no time,'” said Feather River nurse Tamara Ferguson.
In the scramble to evacuate, Halle’s mother had been separated from her child, put into an ambulance and driven away. Her ambulance made it about half a mile before it began to literally melt in the flames.
Her cesarean section left the lower half of her body numb and she couldn’t move. So she made what she thought would be her last phone call.
“I said goodbye to my husband and just told him to tell our kids I love them and that I was sorry,” Roebuck said. “I was sorry I wouldn’t be there. It was very, very hard.”
Ferguson was in an ambulance behind Roebuck’s, making the same last phone call to her family.
“They kept telling me, ‘no, you’re going to be fine,'” Ferguson recalled. “And I kept trying to convince them, ‘No, you don’t understand. I’m not going to be fine. There’s no way I’m going to survive this. There’s fire blowing at me.'”
As the fire was consuming homes all around them a stranger helped Roebuck get out of her ambulance and wheeled her up a driveway on Chloe Court. Nurse Ferguson followed.
Eventually, they ran into Paradise Fire Chief David Hawks.
“There’s a dog door here that one of the paramedics made access to it. We unlocked the garage, moved patients into this home and sheltered them in place,” Hawks told KTXL.
What happened next was nothing short of amazing. Emergency medical technicians and nurses became stand-in firefighters, some getting on the roof of the home to clear gutters of brush. They hosed down the outer edge of the property.
They saved the home, while their patients were kept safe inside.
“He said, ‘You do this, you do this, you do this,'” Ferguson said. “All of us shifted our minds to what do we need to do for survival mode here.”
“They followed directions,” Hawks said. “They did exactly what I asked them to do.”
Amid a neighborhood devastated by the Camp Fire, the Chloe Court home survived – and so did all the patients and medical staff inside.
“I am so happy that my home was spared so that their lives could be spared,” said Desiree Borden. “That was that home’s purpose was to save those people.”
Borden owns the home with her husband. Not long before it was used to save the lives of people she’d never met, she was fleeing from it with her 17-month-old daughter in the car.
“I was singing nursery rhymes to her, trying to keep her calm. Although she was very calm, I don’t know if I was singing the nursery rhymes for her or for me,” she said. “I just knew our story couldn’t end that way. We couldn’t burn alive in a car.”
It wasn’t until one of the nurses sent Borden a Facebook message that she learned her home was still standing. She had assumed like her neighbors’ homes it was gone.
Now the people who were all strangers a few days ago have become forever bonded through one common story of survival.
“We’re all here. We’re able to talk about this and it’s absolutely extraordinary,”