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A 35-year-old woman and her newborn child were rescued from Plumas County National Forest last week after a harrowing three days in the wild, during which she gave birth alone and set fire to a mountainside. According to KRCA, a pregnant Amber Pangborn was driving to her mother’s house last Wednesday when she decided to take a shortcut through the 1,146,000-acre national forest. Pangborn quickly became lost and soon ran out of gas, forcing her to pull over on the side of the road.
That was when her contractions began.
With no assistance and no medical supplies, Pangborn said she had no choice but to give birth in the back of her car.
“I laid out a sleeping bag in the backseat, lied down, gripped the handle above the back window and gave birth to my daughter,” she told KNVN.
The woman spent the next three days inside. The vehicle managed to keep out insects and wildlife drawn out by the smell, but Pangborn was unable to leave either. The new mother said that every time she opened the car doors, bees and mosquito would swarm in.
“I was trying to get them not to sting her, but I got stung,” Pangborn recalled.
Near the end of her stay in the forest, Pangborn began seriously doubting whether help would come. With no cell phone reception and a baby on her arm, her choices were limited. For almost three days, the woman survived on nothing more than a bottle of soda, three apples, and a bottle of water. In the end, Pangborn knew that waiting would not be enough—she needed to do something drastic. She needed to make a signal fire.
“The fire just went ‘woosh,’ and shot up the mountainside,” she said. “I was looking at [my daughter] Marissa and I told her ‘honey, I think mommy just started a forest fire.’”
A lighter and can of hair spray can be a potent fire starter, so much so that the signal fire Pangborn created quickly grew out of her control and began consuming part of a mountainside. Fortunately for her and her daughter, that drew the attention of the US Forest Service and rescue workers eventually airlifted the pair to a nearby hospital. The Forest Service stated that both mother and child needed immediate medical attention.
Officials have not yet confirmed Pangborn’s story and said that the forest fire is still under investigation. It is currently unknown if the woman faces any charges.
“Our thoughts and best wishes continue to be with the mother and baby,” Forest Service supervisor Chris French told the Los Angeles Times. “We are very pleased with the professionalism and cool-headed decision-making of our fire response crew.”