SANTA ROSA (CBS SF) – The last time Dr. Scott Witt stood inside Sutter Hospital’s Neo-Natal ICU, he was franticly calling out orders to get his young patients out as the Tubbs Fire closed in.
On Tuesday, Witt was back in the unit as the hospital reopened for business.
“We had to wait for ambulances,” he said recalling those tension-filled hours a week ago. “They weren’t available yet and it was starting to be a bit more smokey in here. The flames — we could see from the window.”
Witt has jumped on his motorcycle last Sunday night after receiving word about the fire and the threat it presented to the hospital.
As others passed him fleeing the flames, he drove into them.
Once he arrived at the hospital, Witt began to run alternative evacuation plans through his mind.
“If the building did start to catch fire, we could at least move into the parking lot that didn’t have fire in it,” he said.
While some the babies were placed into ambulances, others were put on buses that arrived at the hospital to help evacuate all the patients.
“We had one more ambulance show up and we loaded it with as many of the stable babies that we could in basinets,” he said.
Witt jumped back on his motorcycle and followed that final ambulance to Santa Rosa Memorial Hospital. As he rode, the destruction of the Tubbs Fire was all around him.
He was thankful he had told his family to evacuate their Fountain Grove neighborhood home.
“They got out, but with nothing,” he said. “By about noon we found out that my neighborhood was totally burnt down.”
Witt was not alone. Several of his colleagues both at Sutter and the nearby Kaiser hospital lost their homes while they were helping evacuate patients from both facilities.
When asked about his personal loss, Witt says he’s just thankful all his young patients go out alive.
“It’s just lovely to have this place and to have the ability to take care of babies,” he said.
Sutter did not suffer any damage in the fire, but the Shea House – a facility adjacent to the hospital when families of premature babies were allowed to stay — bore witness to how close disaster had come.
The fire reduced it to piles of ash and melted metal. Thankfully, everyone who was there also was able to escape unharmed.