Rachelle Sanders’ newborn baby was less than 12 hours old when they had to evacuate.
As CNN reports, the mom-of-three from Paradise, California, had given birth to son Lincoln via C-section just hours before the hospital had to evacuate because of the deadly Camp Fire. Early on the morning of November 8, Rachelle found herself in a wheelchair as the hospital tried to get the patients to safety.
By the time Rachelle was at the door, there were no ambulances available, and hospital employees were putting patients in their personal cars. Rachelle and Lincoln ended up in a car with David, a hospital staffer with no medical background, who took on the task of driving the mother and child to the nearest hospital, which was 20 miles away.
It wasn’t an easy trip. Rachelle still had intravenous lines attached from her recent surgery, and David had to drape them around the rearview mirror to get them working again. The raging wildfires kept cutting off their route to safety, forcing the group to double back and try different paths.
At one point, things looked so bad that Rachelle called her father to let him know that she loved him. She didn’t say it, but she was thinking this might be her chance to say goodbye. She told CNN:
“I thought I wasn’t going to make it, for sure. I wasn’t sure any of us were going to make it. It was very, very terrifying.”
The mom spent much of the time praying for their safety. Often, they saw flames blocking the road or flanking the way out. Rachelle told CNN:
“There were times when the flames would go all the way across the road. There were cars that people were abandoning, and then the car would catch fire and explode. […] The wind was blowing so fast, it just looked like a windstorm of fire.”
Afraid that they might become trapped, David asked Rachelle what she wanted to do if the fire became impossible to drive through.
Still recovering from the surgery, Rachelle knew should wouldn’t be able to run — or even walk away — if the fire engulfed their car. She told David that if they got trapped, she wanted him to save Lincoln:
“I said, ‘I want you to take the baby and run.'”
The group got redirected and turned around so many times that they even ended up driving back to the hospital where they started. That’s when Rachelle caught a glimpse of her own house, which had burned down. Only the chimney remained.
In the end, it took nine hours for Rachelle, Lincoln, and David to get to the hospital in Chico, California. She said that David came to check on her after ensuring that his wife was also able to escape the fire.
Rachelle has been reunited with her husband and children. The family of five is now homeless, but she says the experience has made her grateful for what she has. She told CNN:
“Never have I had a Thanksgiving come where I have had so little and felt more thankful and blessed.”