I Thought My Brother Died Yesterday

By Jonathan Russell

At 8:18 am, the text message came. “We’re evacuating Paradise as a precaution. Hopefully David will be able to join soon.” It came from my mom and dad. They were with David’s wife and kids. David is my brother. A doctor. And a guy that has always had a heart bigger than himself. As he was on his way to morning rounds at the hospital, he saw some smoke. Off in the hills, but close. And he let the family know. Just to be safe.

As the family was leaving town, I started gathering information from EMS scanners and twitter. Evacuation zones. Shelters. Fire size and speed. Anything to help the family. And praying. 

All the while, text messages trickled in. 

"David’s on his way to meet us."
"He’s trapped in traffic."
"The fire was 10 feet from him."
"He left his truck behind and ran."
"CalFire told him to break in a house."
"He’s still caring for patients."
"WE CAN’T GET IN TOUCH WITH HIM."

I knew where he was. At least within a few blocks. I knew where the firefighting resources were...nowhere near him.

Somewhere in the sea that is twitter, I found a map that showed the heat levels the fire was generating. With its intensity focused right where he was. “He can’t survive that,” I thought.

*    *    *    *    *
“I won’t survive this,” he thought as he settled patients inside a house and bathed it–and himself–in water against the on-rushing flames. 

*    *    *    *    *

We waited, watching the now all too familiar images roll in, hearing the desperation in the voices of EMS personnel on radios. Hoping against hope that my brother would make it out. But if I’m honest, I thought my brother died yesterday.

Then at 2:26 pm, “David is out of the fire zone.” The relief brought tears and exclamations to all of us. “How’d you make it out,” I asked him last night. 

“A miracle,” he said.

But today, my heart breaks for those who haven’t yet gotten the news we got yesterday. And for those who never will.

My heart breaks for those who lost everything: their house, their job, the places they love. My heart breaks for the families of first responders who will hold their breath for days, waiting to hear from their loved ones again.

For many, the story is just beginning.

Last night, I lay awake reflecting on the experience of the day, praying for those who were still at risk.

Then it struck me:
Not once yesterday did I think about the Adventist church and its worldwide governance challenges. 
Not once did I think about ordination. 
Not once did I wonder if those Adventists fleeing the flames were all in compliance.

When we get back to what’s most important, we find:  Family. Faith. Community. Camaraderie.

The Paradise community is hurting.
Our Adventist family is hurting. 
And somehow, God is with us.

Psalm 34:18 The Lord is near to the brokenhearted
And saves those who are crushed in spirit.


You will find many news reports on the fire online.
Here is one of them from the Chico Enterprise-Record...

You can also read another story from the hospital evacuation here...