“November 8th, 2018. It’s 9:43 a.m.,” wrote Allyn Pierce, the former ICU nurse at Feather River Hospital in Paradise, California. “There wasn’t a square foot space that wasn’t on fire. I’m watching work friends running past, between vehicles, because their cars were trapped or broke down in the heat and dearth of oxygen. I’m making calculated moves to keep moving forward. If I had to drive over fire, I would let some space build up in front of my truck and close the gap quickly when clear road opened up, so I could limit the amount of time the tires spent over the direct flames. I have music blaring: Peter Gabriel and A-ha, to try to drown out the explosions and keep my passengers calm. Cars would try to pull ahead of me and drive in those spaces and get stuck over the fire. Some of the cars would catch on fire and the occupants would end up having to abandon their vehicles and run up the road through the fire and ember filled air.”
Pierce wrote this account of how he used his training as a nurse and merchant sailor to do his level best to help during the tragic Camp Fire that engulfed 240 square miles, destroyed nearly 19,000 buildings and took 85 lives in Butte County, California. Pierce’s town of Paradise was wiped completely off the map, with more than $16 billion worth of insurance losses left in its wake.
“I decided to try and follow the Cal Fire truck, thinking they would be able to carve a better path and maybe had more information,” Pierce continued. “I ended up trapped in the left lane oncoming lane, next to their rig. We were trapped to the left by a burning full-size SUV. My passengers made quick decision to escape to the Cal Fire truck, when we realized the firemen appeared to be sheltering in place (possibly preparing to burn over) with some sort of space blankets against the windows to try and block the heat. That’s when things went from terrifying to some other calm, funny place (my eyes are tearing up while I write this particular part).
Pierce was driving his slightly customized white 2017 Toyota SR5 Tundra (nicknamed Pandra), his family vehicle.
“I didn’t join them, because I didn’t want to block the road if something opened up,” he wrote. “The people in the cars behind me are my people, my team, my Feather River Hospital that worked so hard to get our patients to safety. The situation was…grave. The music that used to feel so calm now had this soundtrack juxtapositional quality. The lyrics are now taking on a dark message. I start recording videos to my friends, my family. I wrap my phone up and stuff it in the center console. Then a Cal Fire Dozer Operator slams the burning SUV out of the way opening up a path to turn around and escape…. I head back to the hospital.”
As Feather River’s ICU nurse manager, Pierce began evacuations the moment the sky was blaze orange at 8 that morning. He was the last person out after his unit and their patients were safely evacuated, tagging doors of rooms which were clear to aid in firefighters’ efforts.
Chaos broke out around Allyn as the entire town of 26,000 souls attempted to evacuate from a fire which was spreading at a rate of one acre every second. He rounded up a few stragglers in the parking lot, yelling at them to jump into Pandra. He sped toward the highway leading to Chico, delivering his passengers to a firetruck. Abandoned vehicles blocked his path, and it was a fight for survival from that point on. Flames were licking everything in its path, including his Tundra.
S’mores have been in existence since the early 1900s, when Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts made graham cracker sandwiches over open flames while camping. Experts have said that the ideal temperature of the outside of the marshmallow is between 180-185 degrees Fahrenheit.
According to an interview with speedhunters.com, Pierce didn’t want to leave his truck and block anyone coming behind him (why he was trapped in the first place), so he decided to pilot Pandra to a safe point. Only, there wasn’t one; the Tundra was his only hope.
Through the flames Pierce watched a bulldozer approaching after pushing a few cars out of the way, creating space for the Tundra. Pierce dutifully turned his truck around through the forest and pointed the nose of his Tundra toward the hospital and punched the accelerator to the floor. Ninety minutes and only two miles had passed since leaving the hospital.
He helped evacuate more people on the hospital’s helipad, getting dozens more to safety. Pandra stayed steady throughout the whole ordeal, despite its charred exterior from the intense heat. “Toasted marshmallow” became Pandra’s descriptor, and it stuck.
From the ashes
Toyota caught wind of Pierce’s heroism and gifted him a new replacement with a custom build by Rockstar Performance in southern California. Serendipity played a role in making it happen, according to Rockstar’s owner Nic Ashby.
“I was making homemade churros the night Allyn posted, and his story was blowing up and we posted `hey bud, if Toyota doesn’t hook you up with a new truck we will rebuild your truck with our partners!’” Ashby said. “We posted it on the Rockstar Garage Instagram, tagging every major Toyota page out there. It was already going viral but our post didn’t hurt and BOOM he got a new truck from Toyota! Come to find out he and his friends and family were related to the same guys I went to Iraq with a decade earlier, so now he’s a Rockstar ambassador and we built his truck.”
The smile on the Dave Grohl-lookalike nurse from Paradise couldn’t have been bigger as he sat in the driver’s seat of Pandra 2.