OTTAWA – An Ottawa woman who caught fire in a friend’s backyard says there should be more safety regulations in place for backyard fire products.
Hana Engel was left with second- and third-degree burns to 35 per cent of her body after an accident on May 9 that involved an outdoor fire pit table.
Her entire body went up in flames that night in NHL player Cody Ceci’s backyard.
Jagged and painful scars cover her arms, legs and torso. Multiple surgeries and more than 15 skin grafts helped her survive, but she said her life has permanently changed.
She wakes up most mornings unable to move because of stiffness and pain.
Two months after her accident, the 24-year-old said more safety rules should be implemented.
“I’d like to see a requirement, if you have a fire pit … or a bonfire, to have a fire blanket nearby or water so you have tools to save the person properly, instead of panicking,” she said.
The night of Engel’s ordeal started off mundane enough. It was a Wednesday in the spring, and she and her boyfriend, former OHL player Jake Cardwell, 26, went to eat dinner with Ceci and his girlfriend and another couple in Ceci’s backyard.
Engel recalls much of what happened leading up to the accident. The couples were sitting around an outdoor fire pit table. But when it started to die out, Engel said one of the others fetched a bottle of fuel and poured some on the fire. But the flames ran up the flow of fuel and set the bottle on fire, and it was then thrown on Engel — who immediately burst into flames.
“It was actually crazy, it happened so fast,” she said. The “stop, drop and roll” mantra that she learned in kindergarten came back into her mind, and she ran onto a grass portion of the backyard to do that.
Cardwell screamed, Engel said, and jumped on top of her to help smother the flames, as they weren’t receding. He used his dog’s water bowl, that was connected to a jug, to douse Engel.
Engel said she thought she was going to die as her body kept burning. She told Cardwell that she loved him, and asked him to tell her family the same.
“I laid on the ground, I was mainly in shock. I was going in and out of consciousness,” she said.
An ambulance eventually arrived and took Engel to the Ottawa Hospital, where she was put into a medically induced coma for three weeks. During that time, three surgeries were performed including skin grafts on her entire chest, arms and legs.
“I’m lucky that my neck and face were saved,” she said, adding that both are still burnt.
In the time since her accident, Engel has been surrounded by her family and Cardwell. She’s been released from the Ross Tilley Burn Centre in Toronto and now lives at home in Ottawa.
She has to stay mostly indoors to avoid the sun, she said. Cardwell has been keeping her company during his off-season, and is looking for a new contract nearby.
“He’s taking care of me and we’re both taking care of each other, and trying to be strong for each other,” she said, adding that Cardwell tells her he loves her and that she’s beautiful, but the scars are a reminder of what happened.
Although doctors don’t have a strict timeline for her recovery, Engel said she is starting to feel like herself again. She runs a yoga studio in Ottawa, but is unsure if she can return to work.
If you’re near a fire pit this summer, Engel said she’d remind people not to play with fuel and know how to safely operate your pit.
Ceci provided a statement to The Canadian Press via his agent, J.P. Barry, expressing his sorrow over the accident concern about Engel’s well-being.
“I am deeply sorry that this unfortunate accident took place,” Ceci said in the statement.
Marion Kuiper-Lampman, president of the Niagara District Volunteer Firefighters Association, said you should never pour any kind of fuel on outdoor fire products, and you should always follow the label instructions.
Stop, drop and roll is the best action to take if you are on fire, Kuiper-Lampman said. She also advised keeping a bucket of water nearby if you have a backyard fire, but not to jump into a chlorinated pool as that could sting.