Nurse Nicole Jolly went to work at Adventist Health Feather River Hospital in Paradise, California on Thursday, November 9th, but little did she know that the day would turn into a terrifying fight for survival. Jolly, who is 34-years-old and a mother of three, was alerted at 7:30 a.m., along with the rest of the hospital staff, that California’s Camp Fire was headed right for them.
The hospital sits right on the edge of a massive ravine that was supposed to insulate the facility from the growing wildfire. But with strong gusts of wind, the fire managed to leap over the ravine as it headed right for Adventist Health Feather River Hospital.
Immediately, Jolly and her colleagues began evacuating the hospital, helping patients, including babies and elderly individuals, get outside and into the parking lot. They managed to get everyone out within just 20 minutes, with one doctor racing to finish performing surgery and get their patient out the door in time.
Nicole Jolly was one of the last people to leave the building. But by the time she got to her car, the trees in the parking lot were already swallowed up in flames. The area was filling with smoke with the Camp Fire right at their heels.
Jolly and the rest of the hospital staff pulled out onto the road only to get stuck in traffic. But the fire was billowing towards the road, filling the sky with smoke. With the fire just on the other side of her car door, Jolly picked up her phone and called her husband, believing these to be her last moments on earth. Her husband told her to run.
Jolly got out of the car and saw her colleague Karen Davis, a surgical nurse, stopped in traffic. She tried to get in the car, but the plastic handles on the doors had melted. She banged on glass, but she could see through the smoke. Finally, she had to make a run for it.
With her lungs full of the hot air and her shoes melting against the pavement, Jolly tried to run through the traffic but her pantleg caught fire along the way. She put her hand out in front of her because she couldn’t see where she was going. Praying to God and trying not to collapse, Jolly finally found her way to a firetruck.
The firefighters put out her pantleg and helped her onto the truck. But their fight for survival was just beginning. The fire raged on near the side of the road and the truck couldn’t make it through the cars piled up on the road. Believing she may have left her friend for dead and wondering if she’d ever see her family again, Jolly braced herself for another brush with death.
But finally, a bulldozer appeared and cleared a path for the fire truck. With the roads still jammed, the truck turned around and went back to the hospital. Locals from the surrounding community had already arrived at the hospital, not knowing where else to take cover from the fire.
At last, Jolly was reunited with Davis at the hospital, both believing the other had died. Together, along with other staff members, they managed to care for around 50 patients in the parking lot. They filled bedpans with water to keep the patient’s dogs hydrated.
As they treated the patients, the firefighters tried to keep them safe from the fire, but the roof of the hospital eventually became engulfed with flames. Now, they had to evacuate the hospital again. They jumped into a doctor’s car and got back onto the road. With the roads finally clear, Jolly, Davis and their colleagues managed to make it out alive.
Fortunately, Jolly was eventually reunited with her husband and children.
We’d like to thank all the first responders and firefighters who are working around the clock to contain the wildfires across Southern California. A special thank you goes to the Malibu Search and Rescue team who have been voluntarily saving lives and homes, getting to regions where Firefighters have not had a chance to reach.