Going to Work During a Wildfire in Florida 2001: A True Story

I lived in central Florida in unincorporated rural Polk County for about 15 years. At that time Polk County had lots of swampy wetlands, lakes, cattle ranches, orange groves, and citrus-related businesses. There were few large roads, 3 or 4 small towns and 2 large towns - Winter Haven and Lakeland.
  1. 1.
    I worked at a 52-bed hospital in the one-size-fits-all 8-bed ICU.
    We treated cardiac, medical, and surgical patients in our one critical care unit.
  2. 2.
    On a given shift only about 15-20 nurses would be on duty in the entire hospital depending on the OR schedule.
    So you tried never to miss work.
  3. 3.
    So this huge wildfire broke out and spread to more than 10,000 acres.
    In Florida the swamp muck burns along with the trees and vegetation and produces thick black acrid smoke.
  4. 4.
    Fire spreads across roads as well as under the roads as the muck below is burning.
  5. 5.
    It burned down retention fences allowing farm animals and wildlife to spill onto the highways.
  6. 6.
    Miles of I-4 were closed between Orlando and Lakeland for more than a week.
  7. 7.
    My husband had a 50+ mile detour on back roads to get to his job each day.
  8. 8.
    I was able to take the main road 12 miles south from my home to the hospital.
  9. 9.
    Well one morning the fire took a turn not too far from the hospital and the black smoke reduced visibility to about 10 feet on a 50-mph road. A multiple-car accident occurred. I could hear, but not see the emergency vehicles. Traffic was at a total standstill.
  10. 10.
    I knew they needed me at work. So I took a leap of faith and took a turn off the main road onto a dirt grove road a few miles north of the hospital.
  11. 11.
    Driving with my headlights on (in the daytime) with almost no visibility I moved slowly and cautiously trying to stay on the road. I came to a T in the road.
  12. 12.
    Amazingly, a young girl about 9 or 10 years old appeared on the side of the road on horseback!
  13. 13.
    She asked if I was trying to get to the hospital and when I said "Yes" she walked alongside me until the road led to the back of the hospital parking lot.
  14. 14.
    She was gone before I could thank her.
  15. 15.
    When I got out of my car I was stunned to make out another two cars coming in close behind me driven by people who also worked at the hospital.
  16. 16.
    They said they had followed me from the highway thinking I knew where I was going.
  17. 17.
    Neither of them had seen the girl on the horse!
  18. 18.
    I believe in my heart she was there.
  19. 19.
    It was good that I made it. About 5-6 people were brought to the ER from the accident and several ended up in the ICU.
  20. 20.
    Another adventure in nursing!