Calif. hospital patients evacuated by ambulance, helicopter twice in 5 weeks due to wildfires

Adventist Health St. Helena was evacuated first due to the LNU Lightning Complex and most recently due to the fast-growing Glass Fire

Catherine Ho
San Francisco Chronicle

ST. HELENA, Calif. — The fast-growing Glass Fire, which erupted Sunday near St. Helena, forced the city’s only hospital to evacuate more than 50 patients by helicopter and ambulance. It was the second time in five weeks Adventist Health St. Helena had to relocate all patients and staff due to encroaching flames.

Just last month, the LNU Lightning Complex fires prompted the hospital to execute a similar evacuation. Both times, patients were safely taken to several other Northern California facilities, including Queen of the Valley in Napa and Adventist’s sister hospitals in Marysville and Ukiah, said spokeswoman Linda Williams. She said she believes these are the only two times in the history of the hospital, which was built in 1878, that it has had to evacuate.

“The sad part is, having just gone through this ... we really know what to do,” Williams said.

The most critically ill patients were taken by helicopter and the rest by ambulances that came from across the Bay Area to help, Williams said. The 55 evacuated patients included 13 mental health patients who were transferred to Adventist’s mental health facility in Vallejo.

The hospital relied on an internal alert system, called MIR3, which sends alerts by phone and email to hospital employees. The Glass Fire is believed to have started around 4 a.m. Sunday. By 7 a.m., the hospital’s incident command unit was up and running and by 9 a.m., ambulances from around the region and a medical helicopter began transporting patients. The entire process was completed by noon, Williams said.

“It was efficient, calm and quick,” she said.

Last month, the LNU fire came within 8 miles, but did not reach hospital property. The 151-bed hospital did not sustain any damage. This time, the Glass Fire did reach the hospital grounds, which includes apartments and condos rented by hospital employees, but did not appear to touch the hospital building, Williams said. There were no reported injuries among patients or staff.

By Tuesday afternoon, the Glass Fire had burned through 42,560 acres and was 0% contained. Evacuation orders remained in place, and hospital administrators have not yet been able to return to assess the damage.

The hospital employs about 1,200 staff. Some may temporarily work out of the facilities that took in the evacuated patients to help care for those patients. Others may be directed to work at Adventist Health clinics in the area.

Adventist Health also operates seven clinics in Napa County, including one in St. Helena, and all but one plan to reopen Wednesday. The clinic in Calistoga will remain closed because the city is still under evacuation orders.

Like last month, once the Glass Fire is over, hospital officials will hold a “hot wash” or debriefing to review how protocols could be improved next time, Williams said.


©2020 the San Francisco Chronicle


Our heartfelt gratitude to the first responders who helped successfully evacuate Adventist Health St. Helena today. Napa...

Posted by St. Helena Hospital Foundation on Sunday, September 27, 2020

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