As a former firefighter and paramedic, Michella Flores has seen her fair share of emergency situations. But over the past couple of weeks she became a victim herself, and began to see things from a different perspective. She hasn’t really slept in days.
Flores, who works as a flight attendant, was in Las Vegas on October 1, watching Jason Aldean perform at the Route 91 Harvest Festival when a gunman, perched in a suite on the 32nd floor of the Mandalay Bay, opened fire on the crowd, killing 58 and wounding hundreds.
Days later, after returning home to Santa Rosa, California, she and her parents were forced to flee their home and escape the wildfires that have devastated Northern California. The rental house is gone, along with all her parents’ belongings, Flores told CNN.
“It’s just a very helpless feeling,” she said of the past couple of weeks. “I just thought, well, I’ve been in these situations before. It shouldn’t be a big deal.
“But when it’s happening to you, it’s a whole different realm.”
Las Vegas: ‘It drove me nuts’
Flores had flown into Las Vegas on Sunday morning and was waiting for her next trip, Monday night, to Boston. She was staying at the Hooters Hotel, she said, because they offered discounted rates to airline crews. The building is blocks away from the Mandalay Bay and the Las Vegas Village, the site of the festival that unwittingly played host to the deadliest mass shooting in modern American history.
“I’m a huge country fan,” Flores said, so she decided to head down to the festival to listen to Jason Aldean from outside the fence along Las Vegas Boulevard since she was without a ticket.
As she was listening, she heard the first gunshots, but said she wasn’t paying much attention. It wasn’t until after the gunfire resumed after a short break that she realized that what she was hearing.
“That’s when everybody started screaming and coming out of the festival screaming, ‘Shooter!'” Flores said. “I ran down Las Vegas Boulevard.”
She managed to hide in a nearby casino’s conference room with other concertgoers. Flores waited there for hours, her only updates coming from a coworker who was listening to a police scanner.
“It drove me nuts,” Flores said of hiding in the room. “You’re sitting there waiting for someone to open the door and be shot.”
When she finally was able to leave, she went back to her hotel room and tried to sleep, she said, “which did not happen.”
She looked out her hotel room window, toward the site of the festival.
“That night, I could see the bodies,” she said.
But Flores, who has multiple jobs, worked for the next four days.
Parents’ home lost to wildfires
She finally returned home to Santa Rosa and went back to work at the airport, where she works in the line service, fueling corporate and private jets — including those used by the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, so she was aware that there was a fire nearby.
When she got off work, she headed to her parents’ house, where she was staying during the process of moving to another house. As she was driving, she said, “I looked up and I could see the glow” of the fires. As a former firefighter, she knew it meant the fire was close, and the wind direction told her it could be coming right for them.
She told her parents they should probably start packing their things and left to take her dog to a park. Five minutes later, listening to a local fire dispatch, Flores heard crews mention the name of the road below her parents’ home.
“I called my mom,” Flores said, “and my mom screamed in the phone and said, ‘It’s at the bottom of our driveway.'” She turned back, arriving at the house right behind a fire engine.
Flores stayed on the scene to help firefighters protect the home, even as the wildfire devoured the neighbor’s house. At 4 or 5 a.m., she said, the house was mostly intact, so she drove to Oakland to attend training for work while her parents went to an evacuation center. When she got off that evening, Flores said, “I went back and the house was gone. Completely.”
Thankfully, she and her parents were able to move into the rental Flores was preparing. They don’t have a lot, she said, but she’s thankful.
‘I don’t sleep’
“Unfortunately, you’d like the whole world to stop and pay attention and say, ‘Here, we’ll help,'” Flores said. “But the rest of the world keeps going on.”
She said she felt unlucky, but recognizes there are others even more less fortunate than she is.
“Puerto Rico,” she said. “Well, gosh, they’re worse off than we are.”
Flores said she still hasn’t fully come to terms with what she’s faced this month, and knows she’ll have to grapple with it eventually.
“I don’t sleep. I haven’t had any time to process any of this,” Flores told CNN. “And it’ll hit at some point when it calms down, and that’s when I’ll have to deal with it all.”