'Take the baby and leave me behind': Mother recounts pact she made with stranger while fleeing California wildfires

35-year-old Rachelle Sanders was faced with the prospect of dying at the hands of Camp Fire and came to the only conclusion she saw fit: her baby had to be saved


                            'Take the baby and leave me behind': Mother recounts pact she made with stranger while fleeing California wildfires

A California mother who was forced to evacuate the hospital where she had only recently given birth as Camp Fire threatened to engulf the building in flames has revealed the pact she made with a stranger: that if it came down to it, he would take the baby and leave her behind.

The 35-year-old, Rachelle Sanders, was in recovery at the Feather River Hospital in Paradise having given birth to son Lincoln via cesarean section. But the lives of all patients at the hospital were soon at risk as Camp Fire swept through thousands of acres and quickly approached the city.

According to the San Fransisco Chronicle, in the early hours of November 8, a nurse hurriedly informed her that the wildfire was quickly approaching the hospital and that they needed to evacuate the patients immediately. Because the operation had left her unable to walk, Sanders was confined to a wheelchair with her newborn infant snuggling in her lap.

The rush and the desperation to get all the patients to safety meant that many of the staffers had volunteered their own vehicles for the transport, and the 35-year-old mother was put into the care of a man she could only identify as David. As she drove out of the town in his white sedan, intravenous line hanging off the rearview mirror, she would witness the fire consuming the buildings around her and its heat melting the car's taillights. 

While residents knew the town was susceptible to such wildfires and had contingencies in place for such emergencies, the Chronicle reported that officials did not expect it to progress so quickly; no one could have predicted what the fire became considering it is now the most destructive fire in the state's history. As a result, traffic was gridlocked and people took to abandoning their cars in the fear they would become trapped inside and burn to death.

Hospital workers and first responders evacuate patients from the Feather River Hospital as the Camp Fire moves through the area on November 8, 2018, in Paradise, California. (Getty Images)
Hospital workers and first responders evacuate patients from the Feather River Hospital as the Camp Fire moves through the area on November 8, 2018, in Paradise, California. (Getty Images)

The mother confessed she wasn't sure if she would survive the flames and that the situation was "very, very terrifying," and it was here that she decided to make the pact with David. "If it comes down to it, if you have to run, take the baby," she reportedly told the staffer. "Leave me behind."

The drive eventually took the pair past the 35-year-old's home, which had already burned down. Luckily, her husband and her two other children had already managed to make their escape. The sedan would reroute several more times before word came through that the hospital had escaped the fire and it was safe to return.

The mother was later transferred to Enloe Medical Center in Chico and she said she had never "had a Thanksgiving where I have had so little and felt more thankful and blessed."

At the time of writing, the Camp Fire had caused 79 civilian fatalities, burned through an area of about 150,000 acres, and destroyed 11,862 structures. Insured damage was estimated to be between $7.5 billion and $10 billion and the fire is currently at 70 per cent containment.