My Wildfire Story: Induced Labor and Evacuation

The Hilton in Santa Rosa was already burning when doctors told Heather Leiker and Jason McDowell that they should evacuate even though Leiker's labor had been induced earlier that night.

The Hilton in Santa Rosa was already burning when doctors told Heather Leiker and Jason McDowell that they should evacuate, even though Leiker's labor had been induced earlier that night. (Lesley McClurg/KQED)

We asked readers for their wildfire stories. If you were impacted by the fires, or know someone who was, we’d like to hear your story.

Here is one of the responses. It has been edited for length and clarity.

My partner, Heather Leiker, and I had a 7:30 p.m. appointment on Oct. 8 in the labor and delivery unit at Kaiser Permanente Santa Rosa to do a non-stress test on her 40-week pregnancy. Due to circumstances, the doctor determined that it was best to induce labor. She received her first dose at 11 p.m. and was due for the second at 3 a.m. During the wait, we were brought to a delivery room and my mother brought her mother and our 3-year-old, Arthur, to visit. When my mother found out that the process could take up to three days, and it was already so late, she decided to take Arthur home. Shortly thereafter is when we found out that the pleasant campfire smell we had been enjoying was actually a wildfire.

At 2:45 a.m. the delivery team came into our room and told us that if we were mobile enough, then we should evacuate. The fire was coming our way, and the Hilton (hotel) was already on fire. If Heather started to feel like she was going into labor, then we were to head south to the nearest Kaiser with labor and delivery. As we exited the hospital, we were hearing a constant cacophony of explosions from the north. Boom. Boom. Boom. Almost one per second. Heather’s car is in the shop, so we were stuck using my compact truck. The three of us piled into my little truck and headed west to our place past Fulton.

The 5-mile journey took us two hours. At the corner of Range and Piner, we saw a truck on fire and a tree across the street in flames. As we went down Piner, we could see the bright glow against the smoky ceiling getting closer to our traffic pile up. Once we got past the railroad tracks, we turned down Bay Village Circle — my partner’s navigation skills still up to par. As we went down past the Marlow Apartments, the police came roaring up to the complex to start the mandatory evacuation. Surprisingly, we also saw a garbageman doing his rounds at the shopping center, seemingly unconcerned and just doing his duty. Once on Marlow, we headed south and managed to sweep into Crosspoint and connect to Guerneville. Finally, with some space to move, we headed home.

Once at home, we prepped for evacuation, loading my truck, consoling our son, and taking turns lying down next to him for short rests. We searched for the nearest Kaiser with a labor and delivery and discovered that we’d need to go to San Francisco. My mother would stay with Arthur and flit back and forth between her place (just outside the evacuation area), our place (2 miles from the evacuation area) and a friend’s place in Sebastopol. Once again, the three of us piled into my little truck and this time headed down to San Francisco. The 60-mile trip took just as much time as the previous 5-mile one.

I finally fell unconscious for about four hours lying next to my partner sometime in the evening of Oct. 9, having been awake since 7 a.m. the morning before.

The morning of Oct. 10 brought our little boy into the world. Amazingly, the easiest part of the whole ordeal was the actual delivery. At 10:02 a.m. we joked with the doctor that we figured he was waiting for 10:10 on 10/10. She took that as a challenge, and Heather started pushing. Four sets of three pushes showed the top of his head. We had time so Heather relaxed, but our newest addition didn’t. He finished the job himself, head and hand first as if he were swimming out. Heather said she could feel his feet pushing against her. Killian Crevan McDowell is a very healthy little boy.

Of course, then comes what to do now. We really couldn’t take him home with how bad the air quality is in Santa Rosa. The staff at Kaiser came up with a plan. We stayed the mandatory 24 hours, and they worked wonders. The staff actually found a hotel for us to stay at and paid for a three-day stay, so that Killian’s first few days wouldn’t be spent breathing smoke. Ruth is a miracle worker and we couldn’t be more appreciative. All of the staff at both Kaisers were amazing, and we thank them all for what they have done for us and our little boy.

Share Your California Wildfire Story

Multiple wildfires have been burning throughout Northern California since Sunday, Oct. 8. The deadly wildfires have been some of the worst in state history. If you were impacted by the fires, or know someone who was, we’d like to hear your story. Fill out the form and a KQED or NPR reporter may be in touch.

My Wildfire Story: Induced Labor and Evacuation 16 October,2017KQED News Staff

  • Bonnie Baruch Barnes

    Please nominate your nurses for The DAISY Award or for the DAISY Team Award! Kaiser can tell you how, and it will mean so much to those heroic nurses who care for your family so compassionately!

  • Nankiegwen

    Wow, amazing story! Glad you are all ok and hope all continues to go well!

  • I have worked L&D Kaiser Permanente in San Francisco, a wonderful staff there, they go above and beyond. It was one of my favorite assignments as a travel nurse. You were in excellent hands. Glad all is well.

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