2020 has been a year like no other, with the pandemic showing us what Americans are made of, along with the deep sacrifices we're willing to make to keep others safe. Everyone here at Steve Landers Toyota of Northwest Arkansas has been extra proud this year of our health care professionals and first responders, who have been on the frontlines of this pandemic every day to try to save lives and stop the advance of Covid-19.

Our gratitude for the selflessness and heroism of our health care workers brings to mind another story that happened a few years back, where a nurse in California sacrificed his beloved Toyota Tundra 4x4 -- nicknamed "The Pandra" for its white paint and black trim -- to save the lives of others. It's a story worth repeating at Thanksgiving, as we face another moment in our history where courage, determination and sacrifice will carry our nation through to brighter days.

Ignited by a faulty electrical transmission line in California's Butte County on November 8, 2018, what came to be known as The Camp Fire eventually became the deadliest and most destructive wildfire in California history, burning 153,000 acres and destroying an estimated $16.6 billion in property, including nearly 10,000 homes and businesses. Tragically, the fire also claimed at least 85 lives before winter rains helped firefighters put it out.

One of the places hardest-hit was the small town of Paradise, California, which was practically leveled by the flames. Alynn Pierce, who served as an intensive care nurse at the small Paradise Hospital, was one of those caught up in the chaos as the fire threatened to claim the town. Luckily for him, he was the owner of a reliable, legendarily "unkillable" Toyota Tundra 4x4 truck.

As the fire bore down on Paradise Hospital, officials called for an immediate emergency evacuation. Pierce piled as many patients and colleagues as he could into his Tundra and set out. By then, the town was completely ringed by fire, with roads cut off and towering walls of flame at times completely blocking all escape routes.

As Pierce later related to the Sacramento Bee and other news media, at one point during the terrifying journey, he found the way blocked by a burning truck. With another massive wall of fire behind him, and nowhere to go, the situation was dire. By then, the fire around the truck was so hot that it began to melt the Tundra's plastic mirrors, headlights and fender flares. But just when the Tundra seemed to be on the verge of catching fire itself, Pierce said, a forestry bulldozer burst out of the flames and rammed the burning pickup off the road, allowing Pierce's Tundra just enough room to squeeze through. Clear of the flames, Pierce and his passengers raced to safety.

Incredibly, once he had narrowly escaped death, Pierce found that the Tundra not only was still running, but still started up as easily as it had when he'd set out for work that morning. Knowing there were still others in danger at the hospital, Pierce summoned his courage, turned the Tundra around and drove back into the fire. He returned to the Paradise Hospital and packed another load patients and health care workers into the Tundra, narrowly escaping a second time as the fire reached the building. As with the first trip, the Tundra emerged smoking, melted and scorched, but still in good running order. Sadly, like most of the rest of the town, the hospital burned to the ground soon after Pierce and his incredible Tundra helped ferry out that last load of patients and staff.

When he was finally out, Pierce took a photo of his smouldering pickup, its white paint now scorched and peeling from the heat and every plastic piece melted until it was almost unrecognizable. "Here's my @toyotausa commercial," Pierce wrote on Instagram, "This truck literally saved my life today. My little town of Paradise was literally burning down around me and The Pandra got me to safety where I could help others... twice."

After seeing Pierce's photo of the incredible "burnt marshmallow" Tundra, Toyota's social media accounts replied: "We are humbled you'd risk your life and Toyota Tundra to drive people to safety. Don't worry about your truck, we're honored to get you a new one!" Strangers also set up a crowdfunding effort to help Pierce, who had lost his house and place of employment to the fire, get back on his feet.

Later that month, Toyota "swapped" Pierce a new, white Toyota Tundra TRD Pro 4x4 for his original truck. To pay homage to the Toyota Tundra that saved his life, Pierce teamed up with Calidornia's Rockstar Garage to paint the new truck in a faux-finish color scheme that mimics the original's burn scars, along with fitting a lift-kit, 40-inch tires and other aftermarket parts to make the New Pandra even more capable off-road. Both the lifesaving original Pandra and the tribute truck were eventually put on display at the massive annual SEMA Show in Las Vegas.

Heroism from our healthcare professionals and first responders is nothing new, but we're glad the unstoppable Toyota Tundra was there for one of them and others in their hour of need. While we don't suggest you go driving through massive wildfires in your Tundra unless you have to, it's nice to know that's an option. Ready to buy the ready-for-anything 2021 Toyota Tundra in Fayetteville, Bentonville or Springdale, Arkansas? Then come see us today at Steve Landers Toyota of Northwest Arkansas for a test drive, or check out our full selection online right now. And from all of us: thanks again to those out there risking their lives to keep America moving during this confusing and trying time. Happy Thanksgiving!

Categories: Social