In the Middle of a Deadly California Wildfire, She Went Into Labor

November 8, 2019
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by Katherine Griwert Audience Engagement Editor

As the deadly 2018 Camp Fire raged through her hometown in California, 25-year-old Anastasia Skinner was just trying to focus on surviving. Stranded alone in her car in evacuation traffic, she remembers, “You could see ash falling from the sky… I wanted to get through this.” But then, the unthinkable: Skinner, who was eight months pregnant, started to have contractions.

“I had to accept it: I was probably going to have this baby in the midst of a fire,” she told filmmaker Jane McMullen during reporting for the FRONTLINE documentary Fire in Paradise.

For Skinner, early labor presented yet another life-threatening situation. She has a disorder that made her pregnancy high-risk. Doctors had warned she’d need a C-section; a natural birth could put both her life and the baby’s at risk. After a panicked phone call with her husband, who was also trapped in the traffic, Skinner dialed 911 — but she says she was prepared for the worst.

Enter paramedic Mickey Huber of Butte County, CA: He heard the call that a woman in labor needed help and rushed through the burning town to her aid. “I knew I was the closest paramedic and I just started driving to her,” he says.

Paramedic Mickey Huber of California holds newborn baby whose mom he rescued in Camp Fire
Paramedic Mickey Huber, holding newborn Zoele Mickey Skinner, whose mother he saved during the Camp Fire. December of 2018.

Skinner’s story is one of the miraculous Camp Fire escapes the FRONTLINE team uncovered while making Fire in Paradise. The documentary also shares firsthand accounts of unfathomable loss, in what would become the most deadly wildfire in California’s history.

Read more: Camp Fire: By the Numbers

For a closer look at the 2018 Camp Fire — including its causes, who’s to blame and the impact of climate change — watch Fire in Paradise online or stream it on the PBS Video App.

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