News ID: 274068
Published: 0953 GMT September 12, 2020

California teen learns to drive while escaping wildfire

California teen learns to drive while escaping wildfire
Ruben Navarette, 14, poses at the wheel of the vehicle he had to drive for the first time when escaping the Creek Fire on Labor Day from his home in Tollhouse, California, US.

Fourteen-year-old Ruben Navarrete learned how to drive the hard way — heading down a steep narrow road at night with giant flames leaping behind him.

No room for mistakes. Just focus, ignore the blaze and the steep cliff on the side of the road, AFP reported.

Ruben lives with his uncle Joshua Smith and his uncle's wife Jamie in the Cold Springs Rancheria of Mono Indians, a Native American reserve threatened by the Creek Fire.

As of late Thursday the Creek Fire had razed 176,000 acres in the hills of the Sierra National Forest in central California, according to Cal Fire officials.

Ruben's family had two days to prepare for a possible evacuation, and in that brief time his aunt and uncle managed to show him some basics of driving.

"It's like a video game, Ruben," the teenager recalled his uncle Josh telling him.

The fateful call came Monday at midnight. The flames were approaching — evacuate immediately.

Ruben's aunt and uncle, his three younger cousins and his wheelchair-bound brother piled into the family's three cars.

Aunt Jamie led the pack driving the family Kia SUV, followed by Ruben in a Chevrolet with his brother at his side. Uncle Josh took up the rear driving a pickup truck with busted front lights.

"When it came down to when I had to drive, I was really nervous, scared," Ruben told AFP, speaking from the safety of a hotel room in the town of Clovis.

The flames were moving right behind the small convoy. "I didn't want to look because I was so focused, I didn't want to crash or anything," he said.

But if you looked out the side window there was "a really big steep hill," he recalled.

Ruben said that he started feeling comfortable behind the wheel only halfway into the 20-mile trip.

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