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Wildfire Triggers Frantic Evacuations At Santa Rosa Hospitals

SANTA ROSA (CBS SF) -- As a massive firestorm roared through a Santa Rosa neighborhood toward the Kaiser Permanente Hospital early Monday, medical workers and firefighters raced to evacuate patients using ambulances, city buses and private vehicles.

A mobile home park located behind the hospital was completely engulfed in flames fanned by gusty breezes that topped 30 mph.

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Evacuations at Kaiser and a second hospital -- Sutter Hospital -- began at 4 a.m. and were completed by 6 a.m. About 100 patients were rushed out of Kaiser and an unknown number from Sutter.

Heavy smoke poured into the hospital as the patients were being wheeled out. On gurneys, in wheelchairs and on foot, the patients were loaded into the vehicles.

"It was getting smoky inside the hospital," Renina Ndegwa, a Kaiser patient care technician, told the Santa Rosa Press Democrat.

Cal Fire Battalion Chief Jonathan Cox said the fire started about 5 miles from the hospital late Sunday night and made a "hard push" toward the facility.

"It's an 8,000 acre wildland fire that started 5 miles east of this location," he said. "It made a hard push, wind driven into the city of Santa Rosa. It's impacting hospitals ... We are in a life and preservation mode to get people out to safety."

"This fire is moving extremely quickly. It is very dynamic," he added. "This is a once-in-a-lifetime fire."

Patients from the two evacuated hospitals were being taken to Veteran's Memorial Hospital in another area of Santa Rosa and the Kaiser Hospital in San Rafael.

"Life is our priority right now," Cox said.

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