Over the past several weeks, my newsfeeds have been filled with heartbreak and prayers for those facing the devastating effects of wildfires spread across the state of California.
The “Camp Fire” is said to be the most destructive fire in state history, having burned thousands of structures and claiming the lives of at least 85 in the 18 day-long blaze, which finally came to an end on Sunday as firefighters deemed the wildfire 100% contained.
Despite the incomprehensible destruction caused by these fires in California, one mom’s incredible story of sacrifice and survival is one that brings hope in the face of such heartbreaking despair.
Rachelle Sanders of Paradise, CA, had just given birth to her third child on November 8th. It was another boy for the 35-year-old mother who had just pushed through a high risk pregnancy and delivery by C-section. She named him Lincoln.
Not 12 hours after welcoming her newest bundle of joy into the world though, worry came to this third-time mom in a completely unfamiliar form.
Nurses rushed into her room on the morning of November 8th telling her they’d need to evacuate immediately.
They told her that the fast-moving “Camp Fire” had reached the hospital, and everyone had to go.
“I thought I wasn’t going to make it for sure,” Sanders told CNN. “I wasn’t sure any of us were going to make it. It was very, very terrifying.”
According to the San Francisco Chronicle, they put Sanders in a wheelchair and the infant in her lap. Patients lined the emergency room to the ambulance bay where an orange glow confirmed their greatest fear: the wildfire had arrived. Time was short, so the staff began loading patients into each other’s cars.
Still hooked up to an IV from the C-section and unable to drive because of the surgery, Sanders was put in the car of a hospital employee named David. He was a stranger, but quickly became her newborn’s lifeline.
Their attempt to flee took over nine hours. The plan was to get Sanders to the nearest hospital, 20 miles away in Chico. But everywhere they turned, there were flames.
“It was looking very grim … we were really unsure that we would be able to get out of there,” Sanders recalls, adding that at one point she even called her dad with the intention of saying goodbye.
People were abandoning their cars to flee the scene, but Sanders was unable to run. That’s when she made the decision only a mother could. With her IV hanging from the rearview mirror, and baby Lincoln in her lap with a smoke mask on, she looked at David and said: “If it comes down to it, if you have to run, take the baby. Leave me behind.”
She says that during their time in the car, working tirelessly to find a way through the flames, she was mostly just praying, “often times out loud,” for David, herself and the baby.
Survival in Paradise
Thankfully, by the grace of God, Sanders and David were finally able to navigate a way out of the fire. After having to back-track and reroute all day long, they ended up back at the same hospital they had started at, which had miraculously survived.
She was later sent to another hospital where she was reunited with her husband and two other children.
As for David, Sanders said he came and checked on her and the baby at the hospital, where Sanders’ husband thanked him. The two have exchanged phone numbers and plan to stay in contact.
Sanders says the real story here is not her decision to sacrifice for her baby, but the everyday heroes like David. “There are stories like that all over the town of Paradise right now, and it is absolutely amazing.”
Amidst the devastation and loss, Sanders says she has so much to be grateful for. “Never have I had a Thanksgiving come where I have had so little and felt more thankful and blessed.”