REAL LIFE

Birthday party horror: we were human fireballs!

Engulfed in flames, Kate and her girl are lucky to be alive.

Here, Kate Collins, 39, Perth, WA tells the story in her own words. 

Sitting in the backyard at my friend’s house, I felt blissfully content. It was the perfect sunny day to celebrate my mate’s birthday.

I’d turned up with my kids, Kelsey, 14, Madison, 13, and Eva, five, and my husband Darren was joining us after playing hockey.

As dusk fell, we sat around the patio table and tucked into pizza. In the middle of the table, a decorative burner flickered away.

Turning to my right, I started chatting to my friend.

Suddenly, I heard a huge whoosh to the left of me.

Then I saw a fireball hurtling towards me. As it roared past my head, I was set alight.

Heart thudding in my chest, I frantically tried to pat out the flames.

But each time one went out, another would reignite.

I’m on fire! I panicked.

It was terrifying, I was a human fireball!

Remembering what I’d been taught as a kid, to ‘stop, drop, roll,’ I ran inside to the kitchen for space and dropped to the vinyl floor.

As I rolled around, the flames on my body died out. But the blaze was also on my head and I desperately used my hands to extinguish it.

As it finally went out, I stripped off my clothes, trying to calm down.

‘Eva’s been burnt too,’ someone shouted.

My heart dropped.

Feeling sick to my stomach, I sprinted outside and found my little girl sobbing on the floor.

‘It hurts Mummy!’ she screamed.

The excruciating pain from my burns was kicking in and blisters were appearing on my skin. But all I cared about was helping Eva.

Someone grabbed a bowl of water and I gently poured it down her clothes, which were stuck to her skin.

As Darren and the ambos turned up, I was in agony.

‘You’re going to have to take over now, I’m going to pass out,’ I told a paramedic.

Within seconds, everything went black.

Stirring in Emergency later, I heard my mum Sonja.

‘I’m not going to leave you,’ she said from beside my bed, stroking my head.

It took 10 hazy days of pain until I was finally with it. Fifteen per cent of my body was burned, the worst spanned from my hip all the way down my right leg.

Bandaged up, I listened as surgeons explained how they’d used special ReCell technology on my burns.

The process involved combining my skin cells with an enzyme to create a solution, which is sprayed on the burns to create new skin.

They also harvested new skin by taking it from non-burnt parts of my body.

Thankfully, I was allowed to go and see Eva in the children’s hospital nearby.

Unable to walk, I used a wheelchair to get to her.

I was devastated to see my beautiful daughter bundled up in bandages. The burns were on 20 per cent of her body, covering her left arm and torso.

‘I’ve missed you so much,’ I cried, going to embrace her.

‘Mummy, you can’t hug me because it hurts, but you can hold my fingers,’ she said.

It was so good to hear her little voice, but I couldn’t help tearing up. She was in so much pain and there was nothing I could do.

Eva had needed multiple operations to treat third-degree burns.

I couldn't even walk at first
I couldn’t even walk at first. (Source: Supplied)

We nearly lost her at one point,’ Darren choked. ‘Her body turned septic and her heart rate went.’

Pumping our girl with antibiotics, medics had managed to save her.

After a few hours, I had to return to my own hospital to rest. But two days later, I got to visit Eva again.

‘Mummy, why was I the only child burned?’ she said.

‘We were in the wrong place and accidents happen love,’ I said, trying not to cry. ‘But we’re going to get through this.’

Later, when I went to kiss her goodbye, I saw Eva stop and look at my face.

‘Your burns scare me,’ she told me.

My heart breaking, I was crushed. She wouldn’t let me kiss her face, so I brushed my lips on her fingers and left.

It was blood spots from the burns that were scaring her, so I made sure a nurse covered them up next time.

After another five days in hospital, I was discharged.

Although I love being home, poor Eva is still in hospital. Needing more surgery, it’ll be a few weeks until she can leave.

It’s going to be a long road to recovery for both of us.

Painful to walk, I need regular physio to get my joints working again. And the two of us are going to have to wear compression suits 
23 hours a day, for the next 12-18 months.

Luckily, we’ve been told we’ll have minimal scarring.

But it’s the little things now that get me down. All my life I’ve had a fringe, but I lost the whole thing, along with my eyebrows.

Eva and I are incredibly lucky to be alive. Since coming home, I’ve learned more about the accident.

We are lucky to be alive
We are lucky to be alive (Source: Supplied)

The explosion was caused when my friend refilled the liquid in the burner.

She and another woman at the party were also injured.

Ethanol burners were banned in Australia in 2017 but she didn’t see anything about it in the news.

She’s racked with guilt, but she’ll always remain a close friend of mine. We’d used it heaps of times at her place without any problems.

But I want people to know just how dangerous they are.

Keep your family safe and get rid of them.

If speaking out stops even one more person from going through this pain, then it will be worth it.

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