4th May 2012 4:06pm | By Rebecca Kent
Model Turia Pitt today revealed her suffering when she was engulfed by bushfire flames while competing in an ultramarathon.
The 24-year-old told a parliamentary inquiry she had little warning of the threat of being swallowed by the raging flames in the Western Australian Outback blaze.
A wildfire trapped Pitt in a rocky gorge when she was only a few miles into the race, leaving her with “nowhere to go”.
“It just got hotter and hotter and hotter and I couldn’t stand it any more so I jumped up and tried to run and that’s when I got burned,’ she said.”
Pitt endured 64 per cent burns as she competed in the 60-mile race in Kimberley last August.
She was taken to a specialist unit in Sydney where she had skin grafts on her back, legs and face.
A second victim, Kate Sanderson, told the Perth inquiry there was a severe shortage of staff at the event.
"You put your trust in the organisers. We just assume that everything’s taken care of," she said.
Sanderson, 36, said she screamed when the fire hit her body and it felt like an eternity before help came.
“I stood there in shock – I didn’t even look. I just knew I had been badly burned.’
Sanderson revealed extensive scarring to her body. She explained how half her left foot had to be amputated and a chunk of both of her ear lobes are missing.
Half of her right index finger is missing and her other fingers are scarred and disfigured.
Pitt, who is a part-time model and 2007 contestant in Miss Earth Australia, told the inquiry organisers had briefly mentioned bushfires, but there was greater emphasis on risks such as dehydration, snakes and crocodiles.
Her career prospects have been ruined, she said.
She once “earned a pretty good living” working for mining giant Rio Tinto in Kununurra before the fire, but now she cannot walk and is on benefits. Her partner has also stopped work to care for her.
The event was her first ultramarathon, which cost her £1000 to enter.
Another victim Michelle Hull, who suffered 20 per cent burns, said the flames were completely unexpected.
“It was just horrendously hot. We tried to run away from the blaze but we became trapped by the wall of flame,’ he said.
“We had a quick choice of being a human fireball and burning and that was the end, or what we did, instantaneously, is just stop and run back through the wall of flame.
“We knew the flame, while it was high, we knew on the other side of it there was nothing left to burn.”
She and three other runners are considering taking civil action against the competition organisers, Racing the Planet, based in Hong Kong.
A report into the event is to be presented to parliament in June.
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