Feather River Nurse remembers the Camp Fire

Nurse Nichole Jolly shares her story of escape, survival, and recovery

Posted: Nov 5, 2019 6:51 PM

MAGALIA, Calif. - November 8th remains a day that will never be forgotten, defined by harrowing tales of escape, bravery and resilience.

"My husband had to tell my kids, 'your mom might not make it home. It was just awful."

Nichole Jolly is a survivor.

"I just kept looking at the fire, and it was coming at the trees, right at me, and I just thought, I don't want to die like this."

But Jolly is, at her core, a healer, working as a nurse at Feather River Hospital since 2015. It was a text message from her husband that fateful morning, and not an emergency alert, that told her the flames were coming.

"Within fifteen minutes it all changed. Police and firefighters were on our back door. It was just sheer panic at that point. Get them out of here, grab what you can, just grab your patients," recalled Jolly. 

Jolly and another nurse were among the last to leave. Not a single patient or staff member lost their lives that day. 

"We ended up evacuating down Pentz road then down Pearson. That was the fatal mistake we made. The fire just came through and just came over the top of our cars, and started burning our cars with us in them...It was weird. I've never had reception on this road. I was able to call my husband. He said, 'honey, you're going to have to run.'"

So she did. Somehow, through all the smoke and flame, clothing on fire, Jolly found a fire engine, stuck in traffic. Firefighters pulled her inside.

"Then out of nowhere. We hear a dozer, coming in behind us. We're just stuck in traffic, you can't move anywhere, everyone's vehicle is there in front of us. It's just blocking the roads. And turns out his name is Joe Kennedy. He cleared a path for us so we could get behind him and head back to the hospital."

A month after the disaster, she and her family reunited with the firefighters who saved her life.

"That guy's a miracle, he's everything."

Jolly lives a peaceful life now, spending much of it with her family and prize-winning horses. And while the wounds of trauma run deep, this nurse shares words she hopes will help her community heal:

"Everybody lost something in this fire. It's going to be ok. We're going to rebuild. And I want people to be there for each other. Because that's what made this town so great. We are such a great town. It's not the things we lost, it's who we are. We are a great town because of the people that we are."

Jolly is now working to rebuild her home in Paradise. 

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