UCSF Shows Courage and Community in Response to Northern California Wildfires

By Nina Bai

2 women hug in front of a burned out neighborhood
Lori Sarver hugs neighbor Denise Zaleski while searching through the remains of her home in the Coffey Park neighborhood of Santa Rosa on Oct. 10. Both lost their homes to the Tubbs fire. Photo by Noah Berger, courtesy of San Francisco Chronicle

Editor’s note: This story has been updated to reflect new events from Oct. 13.

On Sunday evening, as many were settling in for the night, UCSF Health special events Director Kim Murphy was springing into action to save people from an approaching wildfire in Santa Rosa.

The UCSF Health team was staffing the annual UCSF Medical Center Celebrity Golf Classic, a fundraiser to benefit UCSF Health, All Stars Helping Kids and the Michael J. Fox Foundation that was scheduled for Monday at the Mayacama Golf Club in Santa Rosa.

Murphy and her team, including Heather Hoover and Nikki Tobia, took the lead in helping to alert and evacuate the 125 guests of the event who were staying at three different hotels in the area.

Nikki Tobia, Heather Hoover, and Kim Murphy
UCSF Health staff (from left) Nikki Tobia, Heather Hoover and Kim Murphy helped to evacuate guests from several hotels in Santa Rosa as a wildfire approached. Photo courtesy of Kim Murphy

“It was such as an ugly situation, but it was beautiful how everybody pulled together,” said Murphy, her voice still hoarse from the smoke. “We really got to see the best in people in a situation like that. To say it was teamwork doesn’t seem powerful enough.”

They worked through the night to arrange transportation, at times driving people through thick smoke and rapidly spreading flames to safety. At least two of the hotels where the guests had been staying were destroyed.

Murphy recalls watching red flames rising up the hill toward Mayacama, pulling guests out of bed to evacuate them to Fountaingrove Inn, only to evacuate again 20 minutes later as the flames reached the inn. Murphy stood in the doorway as people poured out of the hotel, directing them into any vehicle that was available.

She worked together with celebrities at the event – including former San Francisco 49er Ronnie Lott – and donors and staff who banded together with one purpose: saving lives.

“Kim started evacuating people well before the hotels officially sounded their alarms. And she and her team continued calling and texting into the night and next morning, not resting until they knew that every one of our 125 guests had made it out of the fires safely,” said Mark Laret, president and CEO of UCSF Health, in a message to the UCSF Health community. “They exemplify the best of UCSF Health and why I am honored to be part of this organization.”

The life-saving actions of Murphy, Hoover and Tobia are among many that people from UCSF took the night the fires began.

UCSF has two affiliate family medicine residency programs in the region, Sutter Santa Rosa and Kaiser Permanente Santa Rosa, that have several dozen UCSF volunteer faculty members in addition to residents.

According to Tara Scott, MD, the family medicine residency program director at Sutter, on the night of the fire, residents stayed in the hospital stabilizing patients and preparing for transport even as flames surrounded the hospital. They accompanied their patients to other hospitals across the city to help continue their care through the night. The hospital sustained minor smoke damage but the residency clinic was badly burned.

Several days after the blazes began, the northern part of Santa Rosa remains under mandatory evacuation and Sutter hospital remains closed. The UCSF community in Santa Rosa is working hard to care for patients scattered in shelters across the city. “We’re still in disaster mode. Everyone’s wearing masks,” said Martín Escandón, MD, MPH, a resident at Sutter Santa Rosa who graduated from UCSF’s Program in Medical Education for the Urban Underserved in 2016.

Volunteers from the UCSF Orthopaedic Institute at Mission Bay and the Department of Orthopaedic Surgery at Parnassus work on Friday to organize donations from staff for victims of the Northern California wildfires. Photo by Kathleen Jay

After being evacuated from his own home Sunday night, Escandón helped staff at St. Joseph Health, where many of the more than 100 patients evacuated from Sutter were taken. Despite the circumstances, Escandón said, “We’re supporting each other very well, and we’re committed to the mission of serving folks that are underserved.”

UCSF is aiding its community members directly affected by the fire ­– including the several hundred who live in the counties affected by the fire – and responding to requests from the California Office of Emergency Services for patient transfers and supplies. Also, in response to the devastation, the funds raised from the golf event and any surviving event supplies will be donated to help the victims of the wildfires.

Many in the UCSF community are organizing efforts to help. Volunteers from the Orthopaedic Institute and the Department of Orthopaedic Surgery partnered with William-Sonoma to collect supplies. The volunteer effort gathered eight pallets of goods – including food, water, baby supplies, pet food, bedding, clothing and face masks – that will be delivered to the North Bay this weekend.

More information about UCSF’s response to the wildfires can be found at ucsf.edu/wildfires-2017.

UCSF Community: Do you have other personal stories about the Northern California fires? We're looking to hear more about how our large and diverse community is helping in this crisis. Contact us at [email protected].