Desiree Borden thought she had time to pack her things. But a friend called saying the California Camp Fire was barreling toward her home in Paradise and would be at her doorstep in a matter of minutes. Borden and her husband grabbed their toddler, their dogs and raced out with the sad resignation that their home would burn to the ground.
A few hours later, Borden got a Facebook message from someone she didn’t know: “I know this is random,” it read. “Is your house at ... Chloe Court in paradise?”
Borden replied: “Yes. Is it gone. Are you ok?”
Then the response came: “We got trapped there. It saved our life.”
Borden was momentarily confused.
The sender, nurse Crissy Foster, explained: “Our ambulance caught fire and we used your garage to keep our patients until we could get to safety…Your garage is a safe haven!”
Borden replied: “I have chills all over my body! I am so happy my home saved you!”
It turned out that in an act of desperation, a paramedic had broken into Borden’s home that day, Nov. 8, through a doggie door. The ambulance crew then loaded three patients into the garage. They were joined by others, and ultimately 13 people took refuge from the fire.
Borden’s home was the only one in sight that miraculously had not caught fire, and the medical staff and patients – including a woman who had just had a C-Section – huddled in Borden’s garage as fire “rained down” around them, said Tamara Ferguson, one of the nurses in the group.
“It was unfathomable how fast the fire was moving, there was no way out,” Ferguson said in an interview with The Washington Post. “The safest thing to do was wait right there.”
The medical staff had escaped with some patients from Feather River Hospital in Paradise that morning in two ambulances with little time to spare. The ambulances were on a narrow road heading away from the fire, looking for a safe route out of town.
Just when they thought the situation couldn’t get worse, it did.
They were about a mile from the hospital at 9:15 a.m. when the ambulance in front of Ferguson broke down from the thick smoke, then started to melt.
“We were behind them. There was nowhere we could go,” Ferguson said. “We turned at the closest cul-de-sac and we found the one house that was not on fire. We had to break into it.”
One of them, Ferguson didn’t know who, crawled into the doggie door, then opened the garage door from the inside.
They quickly unloaded the three patients and settled them in the garage.
Ferguson said she was sure she was going to die.
“I made phone calls to my family and said goodbye,” she said.
But Paradise Fire Chief David Hawks found them and swiftly gave everyone orders, likely saving their lives. Everyone did as he said. Some people climbed on the roof with hoses, others cleared pine needles from gutters.
“There was fire all around us, the house next door to us was on fire,” Ferguson said. “He told us what to do. He was like, ‘You, go get brush. You, spray down the roof.’ We all worked together.”
The group of 13 people, including three patients, nurses and a pediatrician, hunkered down in the garage for two hours, waiting for the fast-moving flames to pass. Medical staff and fire fighters continued to clear brush and try to keep the house safe. Finally, a sheriff’s van pulled up and the whole group piled in, heading to a different hospital several miles away. Everyone was fine.
It turned out that all the patients and staff had safely evacuated from Feather River Hospital that morning, but the building was badly burned.
Once the nurses returned to safety, Foster sent the Facebook message to Borden. She found her by searching “Borden” on Facebook, and took a guess she had the correct one based on the name on the mailbox.
Borden said she was in “utter shock” when she got the message.
“I was not just in shock that our house made it, but that those people were able to be safe there,” she said.
Just earlier that day, she had driven out of Paradise watching things burn all around her.
“We drove away thinking the house is gone,” she said. “Things were on fire right next to us. Some things got spared and others didn’t, there’s no rhyme or reason to it. It’s so scary.”
As for Ferguson, her house in the nearby town of Chico is fine. But she has 14 relatives and close friends staying with her because their homes were claimed by the flames. She wrote her dramatic story about the garage incident in a Facebook post the day after it happened, saying “I will forever be changed by yesterday as so many thousands of others are, but not by what was physically lost, but the reminder that life changes quickly.”
Borden, also, reflected on the situation emphasizing that more than 70 people are confirmed dead and at least 1,200 more are missing. She wants to let people know that amid the horrors, there were also stories of hope – like her house becoming a safe haven for people in dire need.
“I saw our whole town burning down,” Borden said “I needed to share something positive.”