Nurse from London on front lines of deadly California wildfire

A nurse from London who helped remove patients from nursing homes in Paradise, Calif., as a deadly wildfire closed in said staff scrambled to put patients in their own vehicles and weren't sure they could escape.

A nurse from London who helped remove patients from nursing homes in Paradise, Calif., as a deadly wildfire closed in said staff scrambled to put patients in their own vehicles and weren’t sure they could escape - writes

“With this fire, it spread so rapidly that staff were having just to get people out, put them in their own cars and get them out of that town as fast as they could, without knowing exactly where they were going to take them,” Joanne Gilchrist said in a phone interview.

“It was extremely chaotic and terrifying for these people who didn’t know if they were going to make it out alive.”

Gilchrist, 48, who grew up in London, is a district manager with the California Department of Public Health in Chico, Calif., a city that’s only about 20 kilometres away from Paradise.

In July, she helped move hundreds of patients from health-care facilities in the northern California county of Shasta to safety during a fire known as the Carr fire.

But Gilchrist said the level of destruction and chaos caused by the Camp fire – now considered the deadliest wildfire in California’s history – is something she had never seen before.

“It’s beyond anything we have ever experienced.”

The massive wildfire burned for more than two weeks, killing dozens of people and destroying thousands of homes in northern California. Most of the town of Paradise was destroyed in day.

Gilchrist helped evacuate three nursing homes and a hospital in Paradise, all of which either burned down or were extensively damage by fire.

Thankfully no patients died during the evacuation, said Gilchrist, who graduated in nursing from the University of Toronto.

The operation was unlike any other she’s been involved in as a health administrator, she said.

“Normally during an evacuation, we assist health-care facilities with finding other facilities that may be able to accept patients, but normally we have more time to work with.”

The California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection said Sunday the Camp fire has been finally contained.

At least 85 people were killed, and 249 are listed as unaccounted for. Crews continue to sift through debris and ash for human remains.

Gilchrist said efforts are turning now to providing help to the thousands of people who have been displaced.

“Our town of Chico is pretty small; we are only about 100,000 people, and we now have over 50,000 people who been evacuated and are looking for a place to live,” she said. “You have people staying with family and friends, people living out of hotels, living in tents. That’s the issue now. People can’t find a place to rent or to buy or to live.”

Gilchrist said one of the things impacting her the most is the toll the fire has taken on elderly people, many of whom have not been reunited with their families.

An animal lover, she also said it has been difficult to hear the stories of people who left their homes for the day before the fire hit and couldn’t get back to rescue their pets.

“There have been just so many people who have lost their homes knowing their animals were trapped inside, and thousands of animals who have been burned and are in shelters and are still trying to be reunited with their owners.”

Gilchrist said she is dealing first hand with the aftermath of the devastation, saying she has friends who lost their homes living with her.

“These have been very long and stressful days, from a work perspective and also a personal perspective,” she said. “All the heartbreak and devastation is difficult to deal with because it is just hard to know how to help people who have just lost everything.

“It’s going to be a long, long road before anything gets back to normal.”

Read more news of London on our site.
California wildfire Nurse
If you notice an error, highlight the text you want and press Ctrl + Enter to report it to the editor
2 views in december
I recommend
No recommendations yet


Post your comment to communicate and discuss this article.

Protesters will march through central London for a pro-Brexit rally backed by English Defence League founder Tommy Robinson and Ukip's leader. Several thousand people are expected to descend on the streets of the capital this Sunday to demand that there is no “betrayal” over Britain’s exit from the European Union. The rally will take place just three days before parliament’s crucial vote on Theresa May's deal. Almost 4,000 people have said they are going o...
Westminster council has launched an inquiry into discrimination and “body-shaming” at nightclubs in the heart of the capital. Officials have revealed a “task group” has been created to look into the problem following recent reports of discriminatory door policies, including at exclusive clubs in areas such as Mayfair. Body image and anti-discrimination campaigners today welcomed the move after a series of cases of alleged racism and “fat-shaming” were high...
A teenager has been stabbed to death in south-east London. Police were called at about 21:40 GMT to Topham House in Prior Street, Greenwich, following reports a man was unresponsive after being stabbed. The 18-year-old died at the scene. A 17-year-old boy has been arrested in connection with the death and taken to a police station for questioning. More than 120 murder investigations have been launched across London this year. Image captionPolice have cordo...
Thames Water said the Beast from the East and summer heatwave had an impact on its ability to meet leakage targets as it reported interim pre-tax profits crashing to £67.7 million from £218.5 million a year ago. The water company also revealed the extreme weather sent complaints soaring as it battled supply interruptions, with written customer complaints jumping to 11,083 in the half-year to September 30 from 8,242 a year earlier. Thames Water was ordered...
A British tourist has gone missing in New Zealand, sparking an international appeal for help from her family. Grace Millane was last seen in Auckland on Saturday night (Dec 1), and has not been in contact with her family since - despite her 22nd birthday being on Sunday. Her family, from Basildon in Essex, have alerted the British Embassy in New Zealand and reported her missing to police in Auckland, as well as sharing 'missing' posters on social media. De...
The main reason for sickness absence in the London Fire Brigade is now stress, anxiety and depression, Commissioner Dany Cotton has said. LFB has seen a "small increase" in the number of days taken off as sick leave over the last three years, Ms Cotton, the brigade's most senior firefighter, said. It is the first time mental health has been the leading cause of the absences, she told the London Assembly on Thursday. LFB employed four extra counsellors foll...
A 77-year-old woman who collapsed while calling police to report a burglary at her home is critically ill in hospital. She dialled 999 on Monday to report intruders had forced their way into her home in Bells Hill, High Barnet, north-east London, and stolen property. During the call, the police operator heard her collapse. Paramedics arrived and she was taken to hospital, where her family remains at her bedside. Scotland Yard said its Homicide and Major Cr...
A medieval skeleton wearing a pair of thigh-high leather boots has been found during excavations for London's new sewer. The skeleton was discovered face down in mud at the Chambers Wharf site in Bermondsey during work to create the Thames Tideway Tunnel. Archaeologists believe the man may have died during the late 15th Century while carrying out work near the river. MOLA Headland Infrastructure said it was a "rare" and "fascinating" find. The consortium i...
Christmas lights in an upmarket shopping street were taken down after just three days by council inspectors who branded them a “death trap”. The decorations were put up in Primrose Hill by Jonny Bucknell, the son of the UK’s first DIY television star Barry Bucknell, with a switch-on ceremony on Sunday by model Jo Wood, ex-wife of Rolling Stones guitarist Ronnie, and singer-songwriter Collette Cooper. But on Wednesday, Camden council bosses removed and impo...