A bus driver has been hailed as a hero after saving some 22 kids from the enormous wildfire that has devastated vast swathes of Northern California.
As flames encroached on Ponderosa Elementary School, 41-year-old Kevin McKay knew that something had to be done to evacuate the stricken children and teachers, and quickly. Sprinting into the building and ordering everyone to evacuate, McKay ripped his shirt into rags, doused them with water and handed them to the kids to help protect their lungs from the acrid smoke.
One of the teachers, Mary Ludwig, described the scene as total “armageddon” as the inferno blazed all around them.
“It just kind of looked like we’d be headed into Mordor,” McKay told CNN.
Then, more disaster. As the children were loaded onto the bus and driven out toward safety, they hit utter gridlock on the roads. Many of the youngsters started to complain about feeling tired and dizzy, clearly suffering from the effects of smoke inhalation.
With flames on every side, McKay and the teachers contemplated abandoning the bus and proceeding on foot. But the fire was too intense. The staff did everything they could to comfort the children as McKay crawled the bus along the jam-packed highway.
Fourth-grader Charlotte Merz, 10, recalled going to her “happy place” in order to stave off panic.
“It was so crazy, and there were fires left and right everywhere you looked,” she said.
As the bus continued on down the road, motorists became increasingly disorientated, and many collisions ensued. At one point, a car plowed into the side of the school bus. Then, the group spotted a woman on the side of the road, clearly alone, and utterly petrified. McKay offered to give her a ride. As it turned out, the woman was also a school teacher whose car had broken down as she attempted to flee the flames.
Ludwig added that the teacher kept saying she was convinced she was going to die, and that the pair prayed together as they continued on down the road to safety. Eventually, they reached the end of the inferno and the children were reunited with their parents. Everyone escaped unharmed, thanks to the brave actions of their driver.
“We had the bus driver from heaven,” Ludwig said.
The devastation across the town is absolutely staggering, with officials estimating that it will take years to rebuild.
“Paradise is lost,” McKay noted.
Some 1,300 people are still unaccounted for as the wildfire continues to wreak havoc across Northern California. With 76 confirmed deaths, it is the deadliest fire in the state’s history.
Do continue to pray for all those affected.