During his 1 a.m. break last Monday at Kaiser Permanente Santa Rosa, nurse Benjamin Huggins made the one-minute trip from the hospital to his home to check on his overdue pregnant wife.
He didn’t think they were in danger, but he wanted to make sure the windows were closed so she wouldn’t breathe in smoke. Forty-five minutes later, Macy Huggins grabbed her labor bag and fled with her mother while her husband evacuated patients as the Tubbs Fire closed in on the hospital.
“I could actually look out the window in an empty room and see the (Journey’s End) mobile home park that you’ve seen on the news a million times and I could see mobile home after mobile home starting to explode,” Benjamin Huggins, 32, said. “So it was extremely frightening ... There were plumes of smoke and fire.”
Sitting in their hospital room at Kaiser Permanente Roseville on Sunday with their newborn baby girl, the couple still seemed a little shell-shocked. The nursery they’d completed last Saturday is gone, turned to ash along with their home. Their baby wore the pink, heart-covered onesie Macy Huggins kept in her labor bag, the only outfit to survive.
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All of their baby stuff was lost in the blaze, but a twist of fate has given them a new set of baby gear. An El Dorado Hills family down the hall was expecting a girl, but instead had a boy. When they heard the Huggins’ story from the nurses, they decided to donate the baby accessories they’d bought or received with a girl in mind to the Santa Rosa family.
“Sometimes the ultrasounds aren’t perfect,” Huggins said. “They asked (the nurses) if they knew anyone who needed girl clothes, or anything, and they thought of us. We had just delivered an hour before ... I guess everything works out.”
Last Sunday, Huggins had reported a smoky smell to management at 10 p.m., thinking there was an electrical problem in the hospital building. That’s when he and his coworkers learned about the fire, though they thought it was far away at that time. By 4 a.m., he was evacuating patients from the Intensive Care Unit.
By 7 a.m., all the patients were gone and Huggins drove up to watch the last of his neighborhood burn.
“While we were loading my patient into an ambulance, I could see where the fires were kind of going up into our neighborhood, so I assumed the worst but I needed to see it for myself,” he said. “I wasn’t able to get too close because, well, I would have been burned alive.”
Macy, 29, had evacuated to Petaluma with her labor bag, thinking the stress might induce her. She’d been due that Saturday.
“At the time we didn’t want her to be that late, but it worked out,” Macy Huggins said. “I didn’t think our house was going to burn or anything – I thought we would be able to return the next morning – but I was like ‘this is kind of stressful, maybe I’ll bring my labor bag just in case.’ ”
They moved from Petaluma to Sebastopol seeking clean air and began searching for a new hospital, one that wasn’t about to evacuate and was in an area with good air quality. They thought about Vallejo, San Jose and San Francisco, but coworkers recommended Roseville.
“We have a healthy baby now and that’s all that matters, we’re all safe and healthy,” Benjamin Huggins said. “This too shall pass.”
Almost a week later, the Tubbs Fire has burned 35,470 acres and is 60 percent contained. More than 40 people have died in the fires that ravaged Northern California all week. Huge swaths of Santa Rosa were destroyed in the flames.
The Hugginses still have to figure out where to live when they leave the hospital, but Benjamin Huggins said he finally feels like he can take a deep breath and begin to figure things out. They named the baby Hope. She was born at 8:13 a.m. on Saturday, weighing 8 pounds and 4 ounces.