‘This can’t be happening’: Home lost in Camp Fire, a fight with cancer — then the fridge

Camp Fire victim fights cancer and faces brain trauma after losing his home

In eight months, Craig Hauschildt lost his home, got bladder cancer, and was crushed by a 7-foot-tall refrigerator that caused multiple fractures and brain trauma.
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In eight months, Craig Hauschildt lost his home, got bladder cancer, and was crushed by a 7-foot-tall refrigerator that caused multiple fractures and brain trauma.

Within eight months, Craig Hauschildt suffered three devastating setbacks: He lost his home to the Camp Fire, he was diagnosed with bladder cancer, and he was crushed by a 7-foot-tall refrigerator that caused half a dozen fractures and brain trauma.

But with the help of his doctors and his family, he is recovering at their new home in Murphys.

His wife, Ginger, says the harrowing series of tragedies began last November, when California’s most destructive fire struck Paradise.

On the same day, Craig — who was out of town for a medical test — learned he had cancer and required treatment. Unable to return to Paradise, the family found a new home. But just as the cancer began to subside, a serious moving accident drove them back to the hospital’s doors.

The first blow

Ginger recalls the first moments of trying to outrun the quickly advancing Camp Fire.

“We were all going to burn,” Ginger she says about being stuck among cars moving in different directions, as currents of swirls of flame swept through Paradise.

Her son’s truck, in front of her until moments before, was running out of gas. He had turned around, disappearing into a wall of flames. Around them, the air was pitch black, layered with debris and sparks. She couldn’t reach either of her parents, who also lived in the area.

The night before, Nov. 7, her husband went to Enloe Medical Center in Chico for a test. After several days of unexplained bleeding, his doctors had recommended a cystoscopy to analyze his bladder.

The procedure was scheduled for 8 a.m. Nov. 8. But around 7, his wife was still two hours away, and his son was nowhere to be found.

While waiting in bed, Craig listened with alarm to a radio scanner app on his phone to the city’s emergency teams evacuating his neighborhood. He did not know whether his family would make it out alive.

Craig desperately asked medical staff to help him contact his family, protesting as they wheeled him toward the surgery room until his urologist, Dr. Madelyn Holzman, lent him her phone.

They had spotted the flames on the east side of the house, and it was crossing toward the landscaping in back, his son, Michael Temple, told him on the phone.

The home they left behind was the product of a lifetime of work and sacrifice. A two-story, five-bedroom gated house with a heated pool and hot tub, the Hauschildts described it as a Caribbean vacation resort.

Camp Fire survivors Craig and Ginger Hauschildt purchased their dream home when they retired in 2016. A two-story, five-bedroom gated house with a warmed pool and hot tub, the Hauschildts described it as a Caribbean vacation resort. Ginger Hauschildt

They purchased it when they retired in 2016, the husband from a career in aerospace engineering that landed his name on the Mars Rover, the wife from decades in medical operations around the state.

Of the three acres on the property, the 1,000 square feet where Craig built his shop were invaluable. The shop housed the retired engineer’s priceless equipment and memorabilia: over a thousand pieces, handed down from his father and collected from high-secrecy projects he had participated in over the years.

But by the time Craig left the surgery room an hour later, the fire had charred nearly every piece in the shop, burning the structure to the ground.

Hauschild 2.jpg
The personal shop of 62-year-old aerospace engineer Craig Hauschildt was burned to the ground during the Camp Fire on November 8, 2018. Hauschildt spent five months digging through the ashes to recover the remains of his collection of aerospace equipment. Craig Hauschildt

The second blow

By the time Ginger reached the hospital, the place was mayhem. Chico’s medical center was the closest facility to Paradise, and in-house patients were being moved elsewhere to accommodate the stream of Camp Fire victims.

Ginger’s head was throbbing, her eyes frozen wide, she said.

She said it must have been less than two minutes before her husband’s surgeon found her in the waiting room and told her Craig had bladder cancer.

“This can’t be happening,” she thought. She couldn’t digest the news and was frantically trying to reach her son and father — who also had been recently diagnosed with skin cancer and several lung tumors. “My dad has cancer. [My husband’s] got bladder cancer. I think our house is on fire. What is this going to mean?” she remembers thinking.

The last straw

While the Hauschildts tried to digest the stream of information coming their way, hotels and vacation homes in the area filled up.

For two months, the family had to move from place to place with their in-laws, hosted by friends. “Everyone was scrambling to find a place to go,” Ginger said. “Our daughter lost her house, all of our friends lost their homes. … My parents lost their home, too.”

In January, Ginger found a temporary home an hour south of Paradise, at Collins Lake. The family also discovered the fire had mostly spared their home in Paradise — with the exception of the shop.

Craig was now receiving regular cancer treatments in Chico, but Ginger said he was determined to recover the remains of his collection and rebuild the shop.

“Through the winter months, he pored over his list of hundreds — if not a couple thousand — items that were in that shop, thinking it was all going to get put back together again,” Ginger said. “It was like climbing a mountain with your hands tied, because you … just couldn’t make headway.”

The fire had traumatized Ginger. Driving toward Paradise to her property every day, her thoughts kept going back to the memory of heat and the flames of that day. Paradise was a ghost town, destroyed and depressing. But she drove him over an hour back to the hill of dust where his shop once stood every day to dig through the ashes. And she thought about the costs of rebuilding.

“The dream home that we had was just not going to be possible,” she said. “And we even went so far as to calculate what it would cost to supply ourselves with water because there was no potable water there.”

They decided instead to sell and move south to Murphys in the foothills of Calaveras County.

When the move began on July 6, Craig offered the neighbor’s son — a young man of 15 — a few bucks to help him carry a refrigerator out of his shop to a moving van parked out front. Craig was on the lower end when they loaded the fridge on the dolly and began pushing.

“I remember pushing it up, and then the next thing I remember was waking up in the hospital,” Craig said.

Back in Murphys, Ginger stepped out of the shower to grab her buzzing phone and received the news. This was the last straw, she said. “He’s on the floor and the paramedics are there and all of the first responders are there, there’s blood everywhere on the floor,” she said.

Craig was pinned to the ground, swinging his fists at the 7-foot-tall box of steel crushing his lower body. Blood poured from his mouth, Ginger said, and his eyes were shut.

An emergency helicopter flew him to Sutter Health’s Memorial Medical Center in Modesto, intubated and sedated. He suffered fractures to the left side of his face, eyes, shoulder, rib and spine. But the worst injury was the traumatic bruising and bleeding in his brain that caused a life-threatening hemorrhage — and permanent damage.

“It probably should’ve killed him,” his neuropsychologist, Dr. David Spangler, said in an interview with The Sacramento Bee. But Craig survived.

Coming out of the fog

On July 31, Craig turned 62. Usually, he said he would head over to Italy on his birthday for a sailing trip with fellow aerospace engineers. This time, he celebrated at Sutter Rehabilitation Institute in Roseville with the doctor who had helped him fight two weeks of despair and depression.

When Craig had reached the emergency room in Modesto, he was in a fogged state, Spangler said. He felt the world around him float 10,000 feet above, out of reach.

During the first few weeks of his recovery, Craig could not tell the time nor count 58 cents in change out of Ginger’s hand. “I find myself not nearly as aware of events and triggers in the world around me that should be very clear to me,” Craig said. “They’re second nature, but they don’t come to me.”

But Spangler said since Craig began rehabilitation on July 22, things are becoming clearer. “It’s like a plane coming out of the fog of San Francisco, right?” Spangler said, looking toward Craig. “He’s coming out of the fog.”

Over eight months, Craig had seemingly lost control of his life. He lost a home, his health deteriorated piece by piece, he nearly lost his life, he said.

“I was feeling defeated for a while because of that feeling of loss,” Craig told Spangler. “But it’s not a loss of who I am; it’s just a change in my root structure that I need to be aware of.”

Craig left Sutter on Thursday and is now recovering with his wife in their new home in Murphys. His physician, Dr. Pacito V. Yabes, said he expects Craig’s brain to rewire over time.

Thinking back on the past months, Criag laughed. “It’s too bad I missed all the good stuff out of it. I got a free helicopter ride, and I don’t even remember,” he said. “That was a total waste.”