The Marshall wildfire ripped through Boulder County in Colorado over the New Year’s holiday. Officials say nearly 40,000 people were evacuated, nearly 600 homes were destroyed, and three people are missing and feared dead.
The healthcare workers at Centura-Avista Adventist Hospital in Louisville jumped into action to help a mother deliver her second child in the middle of the chaos.
Giving Birth in a Wildfire
Just as the fire was beginning to spread, Mercedes Astorga was getting ready to give birth. She remembers going into labor as the hospital room started filling with smoke.
“I was the only person in active labor in the hospital … I couldn’t see the fire, but I could smell it,” Astorga recalled. “All of a sudden the nurse came in and said, ‘I think we might have to evacuate because we’re the closest to the fire.’ Then she returned and said, ‘We’re leaving.’”
Nurse Christa Regnier only had a few minutes to move the mother-to-be to a new room. She grabbed all the equipment she could, including IV’s and an epidural machine, which came unhooked during the process.
“I was panicking because I was like ‘Please someone come because I don’t want to feel the pain!’” said Astorga.
She soon found herself in a new hospital room along with an anesthesiologist, who was there to supervise the disconnected epidural.
As Astorga was in labor, her husband, Matthew Day, was stuck in traffic with all major roads leading into Louisville blocked by the fire.
He remembers watching an ambulance drive by as the hospital started evacuating patients. “I was worried for my wife,” said Day, “But I was pretty confident they would be able to get her out.”
Healthcare workers scrambled to get patients out of the hospital as strong winds brought the fire closer to the facility, including several propane tanks sitting in the parking lot on the west side.
With little time to spare, several employees had no choice but to start spraying the fire with hoses of water.
“We vacated our ICU patients within five minutes over to the emergency room and we had two ventilated patients,” explained Isaac Sendros, CEO of Avista, in a video that was circulated to the media. “We were within feet of this being an extremely bad situation.”
Video from the hospital shows the fire approaching the fenced-in tanks near a grassy plain.
A Harrowing Experience
Astorga said the experience felt like something out of Grey’s Anatomy.
“EMT’s and people were getting out of the way. I saw people in the halls with their patients,” she said. “There was all of this Grey’s Anatomy action. It was an adrenaline rush.”
She was later loaded into an ambulance as the world outside filled with smoke. There was an EMT to drive the vehicle, a nurse to watch her vitals, and her original nurse Regnier, who was also tasked with protecting newborns from wildfire smoke.
Less than an hour later, Astorga was transported to a new hospital, St. Anthony North, where she was reunited with her husband.
“All the stuff that we had to go through, by the time I was at St. Anthony North, I was just praying that I would have her here one way or the other. I wanted her alive,” Astorga explained.
Regnier stayed with Astorga long after her shift ended to help deliver her baby.
“The fact that these people put their lives on pause to help my wife and the others, I’m very appreciative,” said Day.
Their daughter, Claire Adaline Day, was born on the last day of 2021 at 3:59 AM local time. She came into the world 21 inches long; 7 lbs. 10 ounces.
Local officials said Centura-Avista Adventist was the only hospital evacuated in the wake of the fire, along with 17 nursing homes and medical facilities.
The hospital didn’t sustain any damage, but it will be closed indefinitely.
According to a press release from Centura, “Professional cleaning crews assess the smoke damage, as well as to determine next steps to conduct a terminal clean and sanitize the hospital. In addition, hospital teams are evaluating the air quality inside the facility, replacing filters, restoring air pressure, and evaluating the viability of the surgical supplies.”
Thousands of families and individuals have been displaced in the aftermath of the fire.
“In the blink of an eye many families, having minutes, minutes to get whatever they could, their pets, their kids into the car and leave,” said Governor Jared Polis during a recent press conference.