BOULDER COUNTY, Colo. — The wind whipped up small grass fires outside of Flatirons Health and Rehab. Stacie DeGoey, the facility’s nursing home administrator, said staff members took turns putting out the flames with a fire extinguisher.
“We had alerted the fire department that we had fire near the building,” DeGoey said. “And just shortly right after that we did get the message with the evacuation orders.”
DeGoey said neighboring facilities -- namely, Elms Haven, Ridgeview, Boulder Canyon and Sunrise at Flatirons -- all sent vans and buses to get the 42 residents away from the fire. Staff members calmly made sure each patient had the oxygen and medicine they needed.
DeGoey said the fire was blocks away as the last person left around 4:45 p.m.
“[It was] definitely kind of scary towards the end as we could see the flames up and across the road and things up from the building by the time the last staff had left,” DeGoey said.
DeGoey said she feels better now that everyone is out safely. She plans to spend the night calling residents' family members to tell them where their loved ones have been temporarily placed.
The Boulder County fire has now destroyed at least 500 structures, according to Boulder County Sheriff Joe Pelle. That made it the most destructive fire in Colorado’s history.
9Wants to Know has learned that 18 nursing homes, hospitals and medical facilities were evacuated in the wake of the fire, according to a document from the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment.
Jessica Bralish, CDPHE’s chief communications officer, wrote in an email that as of 7:38 p.m. on Thursday, “several” nursing homes were still being evacuated in a “technical and careful process.”
She did not say if any injuries or deaths happened during the evacuation procedure. Bralish said anyone with questions about where a patient may have been transferred should call the facility directly.
“Our goal is to minimize any disruption in their care and get them to safety,” Brahlish wrote. “We cannot report specifically on any incidents of transfer trauma as we are in the middle of organizing the transfers as quickly as possible.”
‘Maybe they have a plan to evacuate but they didn’t tell us.’
Some facilities did not have a smooth exit. Dallas Mulvin, executive director of Juniper Village in Louisville, said around 4:30 p.m. that the assisted living facility was under an evacuation order, but the buses were at least 30 minutes away.
"Everyone is safe" but the fire is "all around," Mulvin said.
An employee at Juniper, who 9Wants to Know has agreed not to name for fear of retribution, said they were threatened with discipline if they fled the fire for safety after their shift ended.
“We cannot leave. They’re going to give write-ups,” they said. “Nobody [is] going to go.”
The Boulder Office of Emergency Management issued an evacuation order for the city of Louisville at 2:17 p.m. As of 3 p.m., the Juniper employee said there was still no urgency or a plan. They were not instructed to start packing up medicine until around 4 p.m. The whistleblower said residents were not evacuated until 5 p.m.
“We were just sitting there,” the employee said on the phone. “Maybe they have a plan to evacuate but they didn’t tell us.”
The employee realized how close the fire was to the building the moment they stepped outside.
“We saw the flame, you know,” they said. “The air is blowing, the flame is blowing. Just close by, not even 100 feet.”
Mulvin said she could not talk in a follow-up call and did not answer texts asking for further comment.
Evacuation plans were unclear at another facility. Becky, who did not give her last name and said she is the executive director at the Balfour Retirement Community in Louisville, said "we're still working on that too." A later call to the location went unanswered.
Patients were transferred from other medical facilities. According to Kevin Massey, spokesperson at Centura Health, 30 patients were transferred from Avista Adventist Hospital.
Fifty-four critical patients were transferred from Good Samaritan Hospital to other SCL Health hospitals in the area, per an email from SCL Health spokesperson Gregg Moss.
9NEWS reporter Marshall Zelinger contributed information on Avista Adventist Hospital to this report.
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