This article originally published on November 26, 2018. We republish it today on Bre Payton’s birthday in her memory.
Several massive fires continue to rage at both ends of California, destroying more than 14,000 structures and scorching nearly 250,000 acres of ground. At least 77 people have died and another 993 people are missing as a result of the Camp Fire, which has devastated northern California, and consumed the town of Paradise, California. Three people have died in the Woolsey Fire, which is still burning in Los Angeles and Ventura Counties and has damaged a number of celebrities’ homes, CBS News reports.
Amidst the devastation and tragedy, heroes have emerged. Here are nine people whose bravery I’m thankful for.
1. This School Bus Driver Who Helped 22 Kids Escape The Deadly Flames
Kevin McKay, a 41-year-old bus driver, drove 22 students who had been left stranded at Ponderosa Elementary School in Paradise, California to safety on November 8. During the five-hour ride along dark and windy roads, the bus began to fill with smoke. McKay took off his shirt and, with the help of two other teachers, tore it into small pieces and doused it with water to wrap around the students’ mouths.
2. These 6,400 Firefighters Battling The Flames
Thousands of firefighters are working around the clock to put a stop to the fires. Many of them went from fighting one massive fire to another, pushing through exhaustion and the physical toll on their bodies to fight the flames.
“This is our home,” firefighter Ben Holiday told CBS News. “We both, everyone on our task force that we’re on has family here, houses gone and what not, so yeah, this one definitely hit home more than any fire I’ve been on. Hands down.”
“I pulled into our driveway and our house was on fire,” Cal Fire Capt. Joe Chavez said. “That was definitely hard to watch, and there’s still a lot of feelings I need to deal with, with that… I’m just glad to have my family whole, because there’s a lot of families out there that are not whole right now, there’s a lot of people that still haven’t been found… knowing there are people out there that don’t have a family anymore, that hurts.”
3. Guy Fieri, Who Fed First Responders
TV personality and foodie Guy Fieri fed first responders who were battling the Camp fire in Northern California at the staging area at Butte College.
Guy Fieri made a surprise visit to serve dinner to everyone at the law enforcement staging area at Butte College. Thank you so much Guy for filling our bellies and lifting our spirits. #ButteSheriff #CampFire pic.twitter.com/ZnhNxOa81n
— Butte County Sheriff (@ButteSheriff) November 12, 2018
4. These Nurses Who Saved Their Patients by Hiding Them In a Garage
Staff at the Feather River Hospital in Paradise, California, were only given 20 minutes to evacuate the premises. Nurses loaded newborn babies and elderly patients into cars and drove them to an abandoned garage, the only structure that was still standing at the time. Several nurses helped patients evacuate in an ambulance, which they were forced to abandon when it caught fire.
In a Facebook post, Tamara Ferguson described the order, via the Daily Mail.
We moved patients to the garage of the only house not burning, laid them down and tried to reassure their scared faces while hiding ours. I wanted to run, just get out and run down the street and dodge flames and get to safety but reality reminded me I am not faster than a fierce, fast blowing fire…’I felt so scared, hopeless, and desperate.
They were rescued, but before they left the garage, several nurses swept loose leaves away from the building to minimize the risk of the structure catching fire. They also sprayed the roof with water. Ferguson was able to connect with the homeowner via Facebook
“I am a nurse at feather river and we got trapped there and it saved our life (sic),” Ferguson said. “We were on the roof and watered and when we left it was still standing.”
Shortly after the hospital was evacuated, it caught fire and burned to the ground.
5. This Trash Collector Who Saved a 94-year-old Woman With a Broken Back
After Dane Ray Cummings got the call urging him to leave Paradise, the sanitation worker turned his truck around and headed towards the flames to check on elderly residents along his route.
He found 93-year-old Margaret Newsum, who was trapped in her home while recovering from a broken back. He helped her into his truck and drove her out of the flames. Throughout the years, Newsum — who used to sing backup for Frank Sinatra and Sammy Davis Jr. — had baked cookies and pumpkin bread for Cummmings.
“It wasn’t about being a hero,” Cummings said. “It’s about letting my friends know I could help them.”
6.This Mom Told a Stranger to Save Her Newborn Baby and Leave Her Behind
Hours after giving birth, Rachelle Sanders was told by hospital officials she and her newborn baby needed to leave the hospital. She was able to escape thanks to a stranger named David, who drove her to safety. The trio was forced to reroute multiple times due to flames that were blocking the road. Throughout their frantic drive, they passed Sanders’s home, which was completely destroyed, HuffPo reports.
During their nine-hour car ride through a 20-mile stretch of road, Sanders told the man driving her and her son that if it came down to it, he should save her baby and leave her behind. Luckily all three made it to safety.
7. This Nurse Who Drove Through Flames and Wrecked His Beloved Truck to Save His Patients
Allyn Pierce drove his Toyota Tundra truck through the deadly Camp Fire in order to rescue patients who were stranded at the hospital. After barely making it out safely, Pierce decided to turn his truck around and make a second trip to the hospital.
The journey ruined his car, melting the tail lights and leaving dark burn marks on the sides of the truck, but he was able to make it out alive and rescue his patients.
View this post on Instagram
Here’s my @toyotausa commercial. This truck literally saved my life today. My little town of Paradise was literally burning down around me and @the_pandra got me to safety where I could help others…twice. #campfire #perfectmarshmellow #meltedplastics #buttecountyfire #sema2019 thanks to the fire fighters, law enforcement and my fellow healthcare workers for the work we all did getting the hospital evacuated and our patients to safety. 🤘🏼😔
In response to his Instagram post, Toyotaoffered to buy him a brand new truck.
“We are humbled you’d risk your life and Toyota Tundra to drive people to safety,” Toyota said, according to “The Today Show.” “Don’t worry about your truck, we’re honored to get you a new one!”
8. This Firefighter Hosting Two Displaced Families While Putting Out Flames
28-year-old Zak Phillips is hosting two families that have been displaced by the fires in his home while pulling double shifts as a firefighter.
“I don’t know what else I could do,” Philips said in an email to The Daily Mail. “But at the same time, it feels like you’re not doing enough.”
9. This Actor Who Is Helping Reunite Loved Ones
Actor James Woods has been helping loved ones separated from the fires to reunite. He’s urged Twitter users to share information about their missing relatives using the hashtags #CampFireJamesWoods and #SoCalFiresJamesWoods so he can share them on his account, which has two million followers.