From beauty to burnt but I’m glad to be alive

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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

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