- Associated Press - Saturday, August 20, 2016

KALISPELL, Mont. (AP) - When a flash fire on a boat sent several of their family members to the hospital over the Fourth of July weekend, causing burns so extensive that their 10-year-old twin daughters required 17 days of treatment at a Seattle burn center, the Wagoners still found a way to be thankful.

Nettie Wagoner’s twin daughters - Olivia and Priscilla - received second- and third-degree burns that covered up to 30 percent of their bodies, but she said it’s been a success story for a family that already experienced a pair of tragedies that took the lives of a son and a daughter years ago.

“Instead of preparing funerals, we have children who are healing very well,” she said. “The people at the hospital kept say, ‘We’re so sorry you have to go through this,’ and we kept saying that we’re so glad they’re here to heal.”

Olivia and Priscilla Wagoner were among five family members that suffered burns after a boat they were on seemed to explode into flames during a July 2 evening fishing cruise on Swan Lake, reported the Daily Inter Lake (https://bit.ly/2boYRwH). They were with their extended family for a holiday weekend camping trip at the lake - an annual tradition they look forward to each year.

The fire brought a wave of emergency personnel from the area to the scene, and Nettie Wagoner added that a pair of first responders happened to be on a nearby pontoon boat that helped deliver the victims to the shore. According to the Lake County Sheriff’s Office incident report, the people in the pontoon boat had noticed smoke coming from the Wagoners’ boat, and as they got closer they heard people screaming.

Hadasa Wagoner, 14, was also with her twin sisters at the time of the fire. She said when the flash fire erupted - believed to have been caused by the fuel tank, according to the sheriff’s office report - she grabbed her 6-month-old niece, pulled her away from the flames and handed her to the baby’s mother, who then got into the boat.

“I remember turning away from the fire, and I guess since the fire was in a circle, I figured I could get to the corner of the boat,” she said. “I handed to baby to her mom, and realized my skirt was on fire.”

Hadasa said she immediately jumped into the lake, adding, “I thought I couldn’t swim to save my life, but apparently this time I did.”

She was treated for her burns at Kalispell Regional Medical Center, while her twin sisters and their cousin, Zeke Hilliard, were flown to the special burn ward at Harborview Medical Center in Seattle. Their older brother, David, was also treated at Kalispell Regional and was released within a couple days.

Neither Olivia nor Priscilla Wagoner remember much after jumping from the burning boat and into the water.

“Once I first woke up, the next day, I asked (the nurse), ‘Are we going to finish the camping trip?’” Olivia remembered.

But, she said, the two and a half weeks in Seattle was surprisingly fun. During their stay, the twins were the subject of a Seattle Times article highlighting the burn center’s use of Pokemon Go! to take their minds off the pain while maintaining blood flow and keeping the still-healing skin from tightening up.

Priscilla added that the nursing staff was exceptionally friendly, holding movie nights and regularly encouraged them to keep moving as they healed.

“Miss Sarah, she was really fun,” she said. “She taught me this dance to ‘I Got A Feeling.’”

They were also able to enjoy the Fourth with their family, watching Seattle’s impressive fireworks display through a window overlooking Elliott Bay in a hospital room filled with games and treats.

After 17 days of inpatient treatment, the twins were able to return home, and have recovered enough that their periodic checkups can be done from their home outside Columbia Falls.

“They said normally, for every percent (of their bodies) is burned, they spend one day in the hospital, so they were pretty ahead of the curve,” Steve Wagoner said.

Nettie added, “They had a lot of people praying for them, and I think that helped.”

She pointed out that while it’s been difficult trying to pull together enough money to cover the medical and travel expenses her family has racked up in the past five weeks, it could have been much worse.

They were able to quickly alert local first responders to the incident because they had cell service; a pair of good Samaritans on a nearby boat quickly lent a hand to the victims; the twins’ reaction was to immediately jump into the water, saving them from even more extensive burns; and the fire brought a speedy response from nearly a half-dozen local emergency management agencies.

She also praised the community for helping donate through a GoFundMe campaign that brought in about $8,000. While it didn’t quite cover the roughly $12,000 in medical bills, Nettie said that the outpouring of support made the ordeal much easier to endure.

“We’re thankful for everyone that helped out,” she said. “To me, there were so many blessings in it.”


Information from: Daily Inter Lake, https://www.dailyinterlake.com

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