Tamara Ferguson, a nurse and mother-of-five, was forced to make the most difficult phone call of her life when the deadliest fire in California history trapped her.
Encircled by flames of the raging Camp Fire, she called her daughters to tell them that she was about to die, she recounted to the Los Angeles Times.
“I’m trapped in the fire. It’s all around me,” she told them. “I love you. Take care of Brayden and Allyson and Brooklyn. Make sure they know how much I loved them,”
She said her daughters all insisted she would survive, even after she’d watched an ambulance melt nearby, seen transformers blow up all around her, and become trapped inside a garage next to a burning house with patients she’d stayed behind to rescue at Feather River Hospital.
The 42-year-old nurse had a chance to evacuate Paradise—the town virtually wiped off the map by the blaze—before the fire completely closed in, but she opted to stay because nearly 70 patients still needed help getting out, she said.
Tamara reportedly checked on those patients—a woman who’d just had a C-section, a man on a ventilator, and an elderly woman strapped to a backboard—even as she reflected on how her children would remember her after she died.
“No, you don’t understand. I’m not going to make it. I was the best mother I could be. I’m sorry for the mistakes I made. I’m so sorry,” she reportedly told one of her daughters.
She took a selfie with the other patients, a photo she believed would be her last one, as the area around her burned on November 8.
Ultimately, the fire moved away and Ferguson was able to escape thanks to a convoy of sheriff’s cruisers that swept her and her patients out of the fire, she told the Times.
When she made it safely to another hospital, the children she believed she’d never see again hugged her and refused to let go, reportedly telling her, “Don’t apologize for anything… You are incredible. You raised five kids by yourself. You are everything to us.”
As families—including the Fergusons—gather together to count their blessings this Thanksgiving, dozens of residents of Paradise have been forced to spend the holiday in a Walmart parking lot.
CBS News reports that hundreds of families displaced by the Camp Fire earlier this month remained in a Walmart parking lot in Chico on Thursday, despite the store urging them to leave amid rain and falling temperatures.
With temperatures plunging to as low as 40 degrees the night before the holiday, some wildfire evacuees staying in the makeshift village had reportedly set up Christmas and Thanksgiving decorations on their cars.
The city has urged them to leave, warning in a statement that the tent city is not a “safe or sustainable place,” and saying authorities believe “the infants, children and adults staying in tents on Walmart property deserve better.”
Hundreds of volunteers have organized a Thanksgiving dinner for wildfire evacuees in the area, with about 100 families from Paradise expected to attend.
Kris Wyatt, a Lincoln resident who spearheaded efforts to bring displaced families Thanksgiving dinner, told CNN organizers “just want to bring a little bit of family to them on Thanksgiving Day."
As the death toll in the deadly blaze hit 83 on Wednesday night with hundreds more missing, other survivors were just thankful to have escaped with their lives.