Thursday, November 17, 2011

The Day My Head Caught Fire

16th December, 1979.  I had bronchitis, and had been so ill I fainted, and thus was taken to stay with my in-laws, together with my little girl, who was 2 years and 10 months old.  Friends of my cousin had arrived unexpectedly, and unannounced,  from a holiday in France.  They telephoned my mother-in-law to say they were waiting for me to come home.   I (quite stupidly), packed up my things and drove home so they would have somewhere to stay.

The weather was typical for December in U.K., cold, miserable and wet.  There had been rain for several days, and our house was cold as hell.   As we had a gravity-fed solid fuel boiler which also heated our water, we had no hot water either.   Still feeling quite groggy and ill, I had to immediately set about lighting the boiler.

We had recently had our fuel bunker lids replaced, and they were supposed to now be waterproof......not so!  The fuel was wet, and I had run out of firelighters, so was struggling to get the fuel to burn.  The firebed for this boiler, a Trianco, was at the very bottom of the boiler, and to check on the firebed you had to kneel and open a door at the bottom.  This was my undoing.

One Year earlier, Christmas was at home!

Not being familiar with the properties of coal or coke, I had no idea what was occurring inside the boiler - the wet fuel and the weak fire were actually producing coal gas.  The gas is heavy, and sinks - so there was a nice little gas buildup just above the firebed.  The only way out for the gas was directly across the feeble coals I had managed to coax into life.

My baby and me, the previous Christmas.

The next time I opened the door to check on the firebed, there was an horrific "whoosh",  and a flame about 4ft long shot out of the boiler, instantly setting alight to my head.  The shock and pain were unbelievable, and I jumped to my feet, took one huge breath in and clamped down.  I screwed my eyes shut, and clamped my lips together.  I took a  couple of racing steps across the kitchen to the sink, and tried to get my head under the cold tap to douse the flames.  I could still feel the horrendous pain, and lifted my head once, opened my eyes to see my reflection in the window - flames leaping from my hair.  I quickly tried to put my head under the tap again.  At this point, I knew that I was going to die, and suddenly felt no more pain, everything was calm, serene, and I accepted my death without the slightest fear.

I realised that I was actually about to faint, and fought it with everthing I had, as i knew what would happen if I did.  Without warning there were screams from my visitors, one of whom was trying to smother the flames with the tiny kitchen towel, and shouting to her sister to get towels and the bathmat.  In an instant I was smothering, unable to breath because they had my head wrapped so tightly in the towels.   The older of the sisters quickly soaked the towels in water and wrapped them around my head, giving me one to put onto my face.

They ran next door to get someone to phone for the ambulance (being Aussies, they had no idea of the emergency number), and I sat shaking on our lounge.  I was terrified that I would be blind, as I was wearing plastic contact lenses.  My tiny girl was upset beyond measure, so I tried to hold her, and took the towel off my face to talk to her.  The severity of the pain from the burns was beyond anything I had ever experienced.  I tried to calm my baby girl, and when our neighbour arrived I asked if she could phone my in-laws.

8th March 1980, my daughter's 3rd birthday

There is a lot to the story of my recovery, but I did recover in time.  I had second and third degree burns to my entire face, ear, and one hand and my hair in places was burned to a stubble.  I didn't lose my sight, although my left eyelid was burned almost through, and my nose was burned to bone across the bridge. I spent a month in hospital, and was only allowed home because I was going insane and kept badgering to be allowed out!

I thought I looked great by now!  Bad colour choice for the blouse though!

My fear of fire has lessened somewhat during the years since then, but I don't think it will ever leave me.  It could have been so very much worse.

So happy just to be with my tiny girl!


SMH said...

Oh Carol, that's horrific, had no idea you'd been through something like that (but then why would I?). I bet you still have nightmares about it.
Didn't know you lived in the UK?

lisa :) said...

You never cease to amaze me with your courage ! You really are amazing xx

Carol said...

SMH! I lived in UK for nearly 20 years lol. Herts, Beds and then Rutland. I have put the nightmares behind, but have some scars still - not bad though.
Lisa - thank you! I think this is the worst thing that has ever happened to me. :( xxxx