Some of you may be familiar with the Event of "Burning Man" in Nevada. This blog has nothing to do with that event. It is my own experience with Burning Man!
It was my second to last day on the trail and I was presented with a new adventure. The day started the same as every other day on the trail...
I woke at 5:30am tired but knowing I had a long day ahead of me. Mike woke up along with me and we began to pack ourselves up. Once packed, we got ourselves some breakfast and kind of hung around chatting with a 2day old southbounder and a couple headed south on a section hike. Little did we know we would end up on fire and hiking out an injured man. Here is what went down according to those of us involved:
The southbounder, Eric, was getting his stove going for his breakfast, but was worried about running out of denatured alcohol while in the 100mile wilderness. So, he filled the inner chamber of his stove with fuel and then put just a little ontop of the canister. He lit it and it began to burn. Hooray he thought he had beaten his stove. Then, the flame went out or so he thought.-with alcohol stoves, it is difficult to see the blue flame it produces, so one is never sure if the stove is out unless feeling first with their hand.-He decided to pour more fuel into the outer chamber of the stove only to find his fuel bottle had caught on fire. His thought was, "contained fuel in the bottle would lead to explosion," thus he tried to shake the fuel out of the bottle. He was in the shelter and thus had a nice line of fuel and flames going up the side of the shelter. I was thankful I was outside of the shelter with my gear as the flames were thrown right where my stuff had been the previous evening. The next thing I remember was something being thrown out of the shelter towards Mike and me.
From here it all went really fast. I vaguely remember turning away from whatever was being thrown from the shelter (which was on fire). Then, I heard someone say, "You're on fire!" I looked down at my leg to find I was on fire. It only took a split second to notice the flame on my lower right leg and think, "fire...STOP DROP ROLL!" I'm not sure if someone said it or if I just thought it to myself, but I automatically dropped and tried putting out my leg. As I was sitting on the ground putting out my leg, I see a man on the ground rolling and flopping trying to put out the flames that engulfed his upper body. At first, I thought it was Mike and freaked out! When I realized it was Eric (the southbounder), I was relieved at first it was not Mike, but then freaked out about this guy being on fire and heading towards the creek as he flailed on the ground. I was waiting for him to end up in the creek head first and knock himself unconscious. As I got up to help him put out the fire, he got up and ripped his shirt off which was still burning. By the time I reached him, the flames were out. While I was still stunned, I did notice Mike on the ground sitting there stunned himself. I went to him and made sure he was alright. The other couple at the shelter checked on Eric.
As the other couple poured cold creek water on Eric, I inventoried his gear to see what was going to be the next move. His backpack was still smoldering and we made sure to put it out. When looking at it, I realized there was no way we could carry anything in it. So, I pulled out the garbage bag Mike and I had picked up off the trail the day before and began putting all the extinguished and ruined gear inside of it. Anything salvageable, I loaded into either my pack or Mike's pack. Mike and I were only 15miles from the end of the 100mile wilderness and that was going to be the nearest access point for getting this guy out of the woods. The other couple continued to pour cold creek water on Eric and he spent some time lying down in the creek as well. They gave him some ibuprofen and we finally got him to stop smoking from his wounds. After he had cooled down a bit, we got him warm clothes for his bottom half so not to send him into hypothermic shock or anything. He was feeling a little better and we decided to get moving towards the exit road. At that point, another northbound thru-hiker, 3 Feathers from Rangeley, ME, and we asked him to let the rangers know at the road we were bringing in a 23 year old male with severe burns. Being from Maine, he had a friend in the right place to call her from his cell phone and she arranged for transportation upon our arrival at the road. As a matter of fact, we had a Fish and Wildlife Management Ranger meet us on the trail and let us know there was an ambulance not far away. The ranger also asked us if we had family meeting us at the road. I told him we were not suppose to, but it was a possibility. He stated there was a red subaru with Michigan plates and a couple worried about their kids. Right then, Mike and I realized his parents had decided to meet us at our half way point for the day. We told the ranger it was our parents and he told the crew at the road to let Jim and Millie know their kids were fine.
That was probably my quickest 15miles of the trail. Eric and I conversed the whole way. It was my way of making sure he was still coherent. We stopped briefly for lunch along the way. Luckily, the majority of the hike into the road was raining so it kept him cool but not too cool. During lunch at the last shelter before the end of the 100mile wilderness, a woman and her 2 daughters (whom we had met the day before) arrived and the woman was a physical therapist for burn victims. She assessed Eric's burns and told him he had first thru third degree burns and pointed them out to me and Eric. This helped convince Eric he needed to go to the hospital despite not having insurance and get the burns taken care of right away. This woman also was able to give Eric an idea of length of time for healing so he could make plans for returning to the trail.
Eric felt horrible for the events of the morning and apologized often. The previous night we were talking about trail names and how one receives their name. Well, Mike and I have decided to either name Eric "Burning Man" or "Flame Thrower." Eric wanted to name himself "Dumbass," but I told him he needed to take a lighter spin on what happened and not dwell on it. He has learned from his experience and he needs to move on from there. The other couple at the shelter had one of their sleeping bags burned on the end, but they seemed to think it was salvageable. Eric felt bad about this as well as lighting Mike on fire. I am not sure if he knew I had been on fire as well. Luckily my leg flame was only surface and burned off the leg hairs I was planning on shaving off that night anyway. Saved me some work. Mike had received what looks like a cigarette burn on his left upper arm. At first I thought I had gotten away unscathed, but found I had dropped on a rock by the firepit when I STOP DROPPED & ROLLED and have thus sustained a very nice scratch with bruise on my rear. The wound looks like I tried to give myself an enema with a rock and was a little off target. It hurts like a bun of a stitch, but I am coping while Mike is laughing.
All that day the only song lyrics running through my head were..."oh oh oh I'm on fire!" It was an adventure, but it made me glad to help someone else on the trail and to show him and remind myself the extreme joy of the trail family. I wish Eric the best of luck on his travels over his life and hope to hear from him when he is better and moving along the trail again. Mike and I are fine. We joked about having Post Traumatic Stress Disorder after the event, but have not seemed to have any troubles from it, yet. There were points over the rest of the day where we thought we saw smoke infront of our eyes and I felt warm most of the evening, but on the whole we were and are doing well. Just one more adventure for the trail. Thank goodness Eric happened to do this at the time he did as well as around a Wilderness First Responder. Everything worked out for the better and nobody died!
Thank you to the woman and her daughters who helped out as well as the couple who poured the water on Eric's burns. Three Feathers deserves a large hug and reward for his help as well. Those in the Maine area, I recommend donating money to your Wildlife Fish and Game Wardens whenever you can because they do not receive money for search and rescue but are required to come out and help in situations such as what has been told above. They did an amazing job and I was extremely thankful my husband was with me and that we had not left yet from the shelter. Thank you everyone for your support and assistance in the events that day!