- Associated Press - Saturday, January 2, 2016

BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) - A woman who suffered burns after becoming stranded in the middle of a wildfire on the Standing Rock Indian Reservation says her wounds are healing, but the nightmares and other effects linger.

Sonja Olson Nelson was driving on a reservation highway on Oct. 11 when she ran into a vehicle that was stopped sideways on the road. The car drove off, leaving her surrounded by a 5,000-acre wildfire on the reservation that straddles the North and South Dakota border.

Two volunteer firefighters from nearby Solen entered the blaze and found Nelson, who was laid up for a month recovering from burns to her face and elbows. The injuries to her face have nearly healed, though the new skin remains sensitive to the harsh winter elements.

“Burns hurt worse than natural childbirth,” Olson Nelson told the Bismarck Tribune (https://bit.ly/1JQ8Wg5 ). “Some days, I wanted to just rip out my skin because it itched so bad.”

The social worker at Standing Rock Middle School said she still has nightmares from the ordeal. Passing the spot on the highway bothers her, as does driving near big white cars like the one stopped on the highway amid the blaze.

Her car, a small Chevrolet Aveo, was a total loss. She recently bought a larger Nissan Murano but was stuck using a compact rental car for a while.

“I had so much stress driving in that,” she said. “I just can’t do small anymore.”

Olson Nelson is wearing her Fitbit again, but had to go without the fitness-tracking device for weeks because it smelled so strongly of smoke.

Through it all, she has been grateful for the firefighters who saved her and the support of loved ones and strangers. Students at her school made floats to raise money for the expenses she has accrued since the fire. A woman at Denny’s recognized her from a photo with a story in the Bismarck Tribune and paid for her meal.

“One of the things that blew me away was the love that people have,” Olson Nelson said. “People come up and give me big hugs and say how grateful they are to see me and that I’m alive.”


Information from: Bismarck Tribune, https://www.bismarcktribune.com

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