Terror and Courage in Paradise
Have you seen the photo from the Landsat 8 satellite of the “Camp Fire” that is burning in Northern California? In a single image it captures the ferocity of the fire that has been burning in Northern California. As of this morning, the reports are that the fire has burned through 142,000 acres, and it is still only 45% contained. The town of Paradise, Calif., has been almost completely destroyed, and thousands have been left homeless. It is the largest and most deadly wildfire in California history.
But while the NASA photo is impressive, the pictures that I found most riveting are from Adventist Health Feather River—a hospital that is part of our sister system on the West Coast. The images of the Feather River staff pulling gurneys out into the parking lot, and loading their patients into any vehicle they could find to transport them to safety, speak volumes about the terror of the moment—and the overriding commitment to care exhibited by the Feather River hospital team.
A tranquil environment became hellish in just minutes. With strong winds and dry conditions to speed its growth, the fire spread rapidly. The hospital was surrounded by flames almost immediately. With no time to prep proper transportation, associates carefully but quickly moved patients into personal vehicles. The only exit was directly through the heart of the fire that was now burning on both sides of the roadways.
Many made it out safely through this means—the fire burning so hot around them that the metal body panels on the vehicles began to smoke and warp. Patients held hospital gowns over their mouths as makeshift breathing masks, and they used pillows to insulate themselves from the glass windows that quickly grew too hot to touch.
Some were forced to turn back and, along with patients who could not be moved in vehicles, they found refuge in the basement of the hospital—awaiting evacuation via helicopter. Eventually they were airlifted to safety.
Through absolutely courageous and valiant efforts, in the midst of an almost inconceivable situation, every patient of Adventist Health Feather River was taken to safety. Every staff member made it out as well. The hospital was evacuated within 20 minutes.
The town has been virtually flattened by the fire. Portions of the hospital burned down, and full damage to remaining buildings is still being determined. The vast majority of the associates at Feather River have lost their homes. Adventist Health has announced it will continue to pay full wages for everyone into the new year.
Our colleagues at Adventist Health are motivated by knowing that we each become the instruments of God’s care when we embrace our work as both a calling and a privilege. A unique situation of potential loss and death was transformed by their extraordinary courage and response. We are inspired and humbled—and challenged to renew our own commitment to seeing in every moment the opportunity to demonstrate God’s love through our care and service.
(Financial donations to assist in the relief efforts can be made by going to adventisthealth.org/giving and contributing to the Fire Assistance Fund.)