A 93-year-old woman who was stranded in her Magalia, California, home as a raging wildfire spread through the county was rescued by her longtime sanitation worker on the last stop of his shift.
NBC affiliate KCRA reports Margaret Newsum feared for her life after hearing news on TV Thursday morning about the Camp Fire threatening the town of Paradise, about 180 miles northeast of San Francisco. Magalia is a suburb of Paradise.
Residents in the area were ordered to evacuate on Thursday as the wildfire quickly turned into an inferno, setting off a desperate exodus in which many motorists got stuck in gridlocked traffic and abandoned their vehicles to flee on foot.
With no family in the area and her caregiver gone for the day, Newsum stepped out on her front porch hoping someone would drive by and see her. That’s when her garbageman Dane Ray Cummings arrived.
"I went out and was standing on the front porch when this great, big, green monster drove up, and my dear friend was emptying the garbage," Newsum recalled to the station. "He said, 'You’re not staying here. You've got to get out of here. Why are you still here?'"
The Waste Management driver told KCRA his supervisor had earlier advised him to cut his route short and go home because of the fast-moving fire. But Cummings said he wanted to check on Newsum’s neighborhood in Magalia where “dozens of older residents” live.
"I been on that route eight years, and I just picked the people that I knew were older, and I tried to stop and help them and let them know that they were coming and make sure they were getting out," he said. "She was my last stop. I probably went to 45 or 50 people to see if I could help them."
In the five-hour drive down the hill to safety, Cummings learned his "friend" had lived quite the life. Newsum survived the attack on Pearl Harbor and overcame cancer three times. She was also a one-time backup singer for the Rat Pack.
"Wonderful, wonderful men," Newsum said. "The singers did the picking out. So, the next thing I know, I was in an interviewing room, and here sits Frank Sinatra, Sammy Davis Jr. and Dean Martin. All three of them were sitting there, and they said, 'We are so thrilled to have you working for us.'"
According to KCRA, the fire never reached Newsum’s home, but it did help establish a stronger bond between the soon-to-be 94-year-old and Cummings.
"Today" reports Newsum is staying with Cummings' childhood best friend, Brian Harrison, who is a mechanic at North Valley Waste Management — where Cummings also works.
"I have felt so welcome in this house," Newsum told "Today." "Things may not work in the way you want, but you have to have faith, and get good friends. They're such wonderful people."