Scenes From Northern California's Camp Fire

'Bus driver from heaven' helps save children in California wildfire

CNN reported bus driver Kevin McKay spoke with Ponderosa Elementary School principal Ed Gregorio about evacuating students whose family hadn’t made it to the school.

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McKay, 41, was on the bus with the school children, kindergarten teacher Abbie Davis, 29, and second-grade teacher Mary Ludwig, 50, taking the stranded children to safety. As fires burned in pockets all around, the bus ended up in gridlock traffic, getting sideswiped by another vehicle on the way out of danger.

“It was very scary. It felt like Armageddon,” Ludwig told CNN Sunday.

Related: California wildfires: See a map of major fires

Students began to worry. Davis and Ludwig comforted them. The adults also came up with a contingency plan, pairing up the children, taking roll, getting phone numbers and reviewing emergency procedures.

“It was so crazy, and there were fires left and right everywhere you looked,” fourth-grader Charlotte Merz, 10, told CNN. “There was smoke everywhere and people trying to get out and it was, like, really hard.”

An aerial view of a neighborhood destroyed by the Camp Fire on November 15, 2018 in Paradise, California. A bus driver safely evacuated students from an elementary school in the town Nov. 18.
Photo: Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

As the smoke began to fill the lungs of the students, McKay improvised.

The bus driver took off a shirt and ripped it into pieces. He and the teachers used a single water bottle to douse the pieces, handing them to the students as filters to breathe through.

Five hours later, they reached safety.

“We had the bus driver from heaven,” Ludwig said.

McKay remained humble.

“Safety is such an important part of a bus driver’s role,” McKay said, referencing training before the job. “I must’ve paid close attention.”

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