Amber Pangborn is safe. And, incredibly, so is the baby she gave birth to unattended in the back seat of her car 20 miles from a paved road in a rugged section of the Plumas National Forest.
When she began feeling contractions Wednesday night, Pangborn, 35, of Oroville, told KHSL she began driving to her parents’ house on a back road she thought would be a shortcut. It took her toward Coyote Gap east of the Feather River Canyon 30 miles northeast of Oroville in Butte County.
She ran out of gas on French Camp Road, an infrequently traveled dirt track in the mountains high above the Feather River. Pangborn was stranded well beyond any cell-phone coverage.
That’s when her contractions began in earnest, she told KHSL days later from her hospital bed.
“I laid out a sleeping bag in the backseat, lay down, gripped the handle above the back window and gave birth to my daughter,” she told the TV station.
Marissa was born early on Thursday morning.
No one came to the rescue – neither that day nor the next. Pangborn and her infant daughter, waited three days, surviving on a small bottle of water, a small soda and the three apples she had in her car.
On Saturday, Pangborn took action. Using a lighter and a can of aerosol, she told KHSL she set some brush on fire.
It worked. Saturday afternoon U.S. Forest Service officials responded to a report of low-lying smoke near Coyote Gap, dispatching a helicopter, an engine and several other vehicles, said Chris French, Plumas National Forest acting supervisor.
The first crew to arrive immediately identified a disabled vehicle, a mother and newborn, French said.
“Safety was our first concern,” he said.
Firefighters contacted Butte County emergency services and arranged a rendezvous point well outside the fire zone. Transporting Pangborn and Marissa in a fire vehicle to the ambulance took over an hour, French said.
They were taken to Oroville Hospital, then her baby was transferred to the UC Davis Medical Center in Sacramento for observation. Both were reported in good condition Monday.
The fire grew to a quarter-acre and was completely contained by midnight on Saturday, said French. He provided no details about the cause, saying it would be inappropriate to comment while it is officially under investigation.
Once she recovers from her ordeal, Pangborn may have to take responsibility for the small forest fire that led to her rescue.
Under standard operations, Forest Service officials routinely charge persons found guilty of starting forest fires with the costs of suppressing them. French declined to estimate the costs of containing the French fire.