From beauty to burnt but I’m glad to be alive
Turia Pitt had a great job, an active social life and a loving boyfriend... then one day she was trapped in a bush fire that left her with nearly 70 per cent burns
A s I forced my eyes open, I saw the florescent lights above my bed. I could hear the beeping machines and I knew I was in hospital. But I couldn’t move and couldn’t speak because I had a tracheostomy tube down my throat.
It took a while for me to know where I was but doctors explained that I’d been in a coma for a month. My boyfriend of two years, Michael Hoskin, leaned into my view. There was such sadness in his eyes.
“How are you feeling?” he asked. “I love you, darling. Aren’t you happy to be alive?’’
If I could have answered him, I would’ve said ‘no’. I closed my eyes, remembering the fire, and the excruciating pain as flames engulfed my body. The last thoughts I recalled having were of total fear and intense pain. I was sure I would die and never get to see Michael or my family again.
But now I wished I had died because I couldn’t move or talk. I knew I’d been in the belly of a fire and seriously injured so if I had survived then life was going to be horrible. Trying to forget my present condition, I attempted to think of the happy moments in my life – sitting around in the evening sun, having long dinners with friends and family, laughing, talking…
Until the day of the fire, which was September 2, 2011, I was the girl who had everything. I’d always been told I was pretty. I was a model during my university days but I modelled only so I could earn some money. Looks were not important to me because I believed personality is more important. I was proud that I could make the most of any circumstance and was a high achiever. To me, being blessed with looks was just luck.
Everything seemed wonderful. I was 23, had just landed a great job as a mining engineer at Argyle Diamond mine in NorthWest Australia, after graduating with a double honours degree in mining engineering and science. I had an amazing boyfriend Michael, 29, a mine technician who I lived with Kununurra, Western Australia. He was a calm and peaceful guy, a contrast to me.
We loved riding bikes, surfing, running, anything outdoorsy. We enjoyed each others’ company and were planning to get married, have children, travel the world…
I was sporty – so much so that I decided to take part in a 100km ultra-marathon in the Australian outback. I never expected to complete the race, but entered it because I enjoyed challenging myself.
O n the morning of the race, I scraped my hair into a ponytail and threw on my running kit. Michael was away in Darwin on business. As I waited for the race to start, I made friends with some of the runners.
Just before we were flagged off, I plugged in my earphones – I enjoyed listening to music as I ran – and then set off. The landscape was green and lush with vegetation and there was plenty of scenery to soak up and keep me entertained. I was well hydrated and doing well in the race. I was with a group of five runners and I was happy with my pace.
I was about 25km into the race, two hours since starting, and as I followed the course into a gorge, I spotted a bush fire heading towards us from the right, about 50m away. The organisers had not known about it because bush fires start naturally, quickly, and spread fast.
I used to volunteer as a paramedic and I’d seen bush fires before. So at first I didn’t panic. But this fire was angry, out of control, escalating, feeding off everything in its path. And it was racing towards us, the dry grass fuelling the combustion. It crackled and roared, as loud as a thunderstorm. Even as I was watching the fire, I began focusing on survival. The fire was racing towards us and there was no time to think of a plan. ‘Run’, I said to myself, and along with the other runners I raced up a steep rocky cliff – that was the only place to go. I knew fire travels faster uphill and to be above a fire is to be in the hottest place possible. But I had no choice, I couldn’t out-run it.
The heat was enough to melt hard plastic and was crackling and spitting ferociously. Even before the fire reached me, I could feel my skin beginning to burn. The acrid smell of burning vegetation and grass, plus the smoke was making me weak and I struggled to make it to a ledge about 10m above where we were. Even as I was climbing I could feel the fire The fire crackled and roared, as loud as a thunderstorm. I began to focus on survival
Michael Hoskin and I love the great outdoors