A Clayton Heights family is feeling overwhelmed by community support after a camping trip turned tragic over the May long weekend.
Melisa and Harold Duncan-Williams were camping with their children and 10 other families at Alouette Lake in Maple Ridge, when Harold’s shirt caught on fire.
“He lit the campfire, and as he was walking away — I was about to take our baby inside the trailer to go feed her — and as he was walking away, probably about his third step, all of a sudden his shirt went up in flames,” Melisa recalled.
“And he just started running around the campsite saying, ‘Get Duane, get Duane,’ who is a friend of ours, and he finally managed to get his shirt off, and then they helped him take the rest of his shirt and clothes off. But it was traumatic, our daughters saw the whole thing. Pretty gruesome. He had said at one point that that’s how he thought he was going to die, because he couldn’t see past the flames. All he could see was the fire.”
Luckily, one of their friends who was camping with them is a paramedic, and another had just completed first aid training for burns. Another person, named Chad, who they didn’t know, drove down the road to find cell service to call an ambulance.
Harold was airlifted to Vancouver General Hospital and spent two weeks in the intensive care unit. He has first, second and third degree burns to 50 per cent of his body, including his entire abdomen and back.
Doctors estimate it will take up to a year for him to recover. Now at home, he is bed-ridden and still has to travel into Vancouver once a week for his wounds to be re-dressed, and has weekly appointments with another doctor.
Both Harold, a Telus subcontractor, and Melisa have been unable to work, and have no medical coverage for themselves or their three dependent children, ages 1, 9 and 13.
Harold has also had to put his acting and modeling career on hold, and cancel the audition he had for an upcoming mini-series.
The couple are not sure what caused Harold’s shirt to burst into flames. He had filled their generator with a gas/oil mixture earlier that day and some of it could have spilled on him. He was also wearing a shirt made of flammable fabric.
“The shirt he was wearing was a lyrca shirt, which is extremely flammable. You don’t think about that — everyone has lycra, we have it in our Lululemon, we have it in everything,” Melisa said.
“And as he was running, of course, the flames are getting bigger. In your head, you’re like, ‘Stop, drop and roll,’ but in the moment, you can’t. You’re just trying to get away from it, you’re not thinking stop, drop and roll — it’s just panic. I remember him dropping to his knees like he was going to give up, and him trying to rip his shirt off, which is why his hands were burned so bad. I can’t even think about it, this is the first time I’ve thought about it since it happened. It’s really — it’s hard to get out of your head.”
Harold’s first night out
To help with the mounting medical bills, Melisa’s cousin, Andrea Alford, has organized a fundraiser at Oak & Thorne in Walnut Grove this Sunday, June 24.
This will be Harold’s first night out since the accident. The event will serve as a way for him to re-connect with family and friends, and to raise money for his recovery.
“Everybody is rooting for Harold and wants to get together with him, and it’s pretty overwhelming for him,” Alford said.
“Since the accident, he’s shared with me that he has been having anxiety and PTSD symptoms. A lot of people have been wanting to drop by, and we thought, what if we were to consolidate and do something where, even if he can’t stay for the entire night, he can get out for a couple of hours?”
Alford reached out to local businesses for donations, and was surprised by the support. Dozens have donated silent auction prizes, including photography packages, Whitecaps tickets, a $450 cordless saw, restaurants gift certificates and health and beauty products, such as facials, microblading and a $500 scalp pigmentation treatment.
The event is open to the public. Tickets are $20 each, with 50 per cent going directly to Harold’s recovery. The ticket also includes a burger and beverage of choice. From 6 to 8 p.m., minors are welcome to attend. Afterwards it’s adults only.
“As overwhelming and as traumatic and as stressful as this has been, we couldn’t have done it without the support and love of friends and family, and even those who we don’t know who have reached out to us,” Melisa said.
“I’ve had so many people reach out saying I don’t know you, I don’t know your husband, but we read your story (on the GoFundMe page) and if there’s anything we can do — do you need me to pick up your kids? Do you need a meal? Do you need a bottle of wine? It’s been a big eye opener, too.”
Alford would also like to co-ordinate counselling for Harold and Melisa’s daughters, who were shaken up by the incident. She is hoping someone can provide counselling, or connect them to a program that can help.
“That’s an extra expense over and above everything they’re going through,” she said.
Camp fire safety
The National Fire Protection Association has listed a number of tips to help stay safe around campfires:
- Keep campfires 25 feet away from any structure or material that can burn;
- Clear away dry leaves and sticks, overhanging low branches and shrubs;
- Avoid burning on windy, dry days. It is easier for open burning to spread out of control in these conditions;
- Watch children while the fire is burning. Never let children or pets play or stand too close to the fire;
- Attend to the campfire at all times. A campfire left alone for only a few minute can grow into a damaging fire;
- Keep a campfire small, so it is easier to control;
- Never use gasoline or other flammable or combustible liquids;
- Always have a hose, bucket of water, or shovel and dirt/sand nearby to put out the fire. Make sure to put it completely out before leaving the site;
- If your clothes catch fire, stop, drop and roll. Stop, drop to the ground and cover your face with your hands. Roll over and over or back and forth until the fire is out;
- Treat a burn right away. Cool the burn with water for 3 to 5 minutes. Cover with a clean dry cloth. Get medical help if needed;
- If roasting marshmallows, help young children. Never shake a roasting marshmallow as it can turn into a flying, flaming ball. A heated metal skewer can cause burns.