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Late night bathroom trip saves campers from wildfire

"I think every single person — I speak for all of us — that we credit this was God getting us out of there. Because by all rights, because by all rights we should be dead. We shouldn't have gotten out of there alive," Officer Ryan Holets recalled.

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A late-night bathroom trip saved this group of campers. Four friends and one of their sons were in the Northern New Mexico mountains when Ryan Holets woke up because of shoulder pain.

"When I woke up it just wasn't letting me sleep, and I was sitting there kind of just like, ‘Man, why is this bothering me? I really would like to be sleeping. I wish the pain would go away," he said.

He wasn't able to get to sleep because of the pain, so he went to go to the bathroom. It was then he saw the fire headed toward the group's campsite.

"I saw the entire sky to our south and east was just orange," he said.

He rushed back to his group to wake them up and get them out.

"And they’re like, ‘Fire! Fire! Fire! Grab everything!’ And I was like, ‘Get dressed man, there’s a fire coming and we gotta go. We gotta get out of here,’" Matt Fisher, also on the trip, said.

The group gathered as much as they could to get out.

"We could see the mountainside right next to us just exploding with light as each tree caught on fire, so we knew we were out of time. We had to ditch the tent, we had to ditch our cots, our canopies, tables, coolers-- Whatever we hadn’t grabbed we just left it at that point and we got out of there," said Holets.

Getting out was not going to be easy.

"There was fire down below us, there was fire above us on the ridge, we couldn't back up, the smoke was so bad," said Fisher. Fisher's 11-year-old son was part of the group.

Trees began to fall and block their exit. One tree was so massive, at first they couldn’t move it.

"The fires are burning on each side of the road, so we're literally just standing in the middle of fire trying to move this tree," described Holets.

Holets, an Albuquerque police officer, called his wife.

"I think anybody who feels like they're about to go through something life or death would give anything for that chance to be able to say, ‘Hey, I love you,’ that one last time."

In a final effort, the group covered their faces with water-soaked pillowcases to protect them from the smoke and successfully moved the tree. But there were more obstacles all the way down the mountain.

"My poor son, he was in the back and he would beg me, and he would say, ‘Dad please don't go,’ and I had to. You gotta keep fighting," Fisher tearfully recalled.

Giving up was not an option.

"You keep pushing, you keep fighting until your body is done. And we didn't stop, we didn’t just break down. Nobody broke down, nobody lost it. We just were like, 'We gotta keep going, we got to keep fighting,’" said Fisher.

Luckily, the entire crew, consisting of a young boy and three police officers, one an Army veteran, made it out safely. They credit their training, and their faith, for helping them to survive.

"I think every single person — I speak for all of us — that we credit this was God getting us out of there. Because by all rights, because by all rights we should be dead. We shouldn't have gotten out of there alive," said Holets.

The group alerted other campers on the way down what was headed their way.

The fire started on Oct. 17, 2020, and the cause is currently under investigation.