February 15, 2019 a gas leak caused a vacation home to explode, with Lori trapped inside. Three faithful heroes saved the day - and saved our family, too.
It was exciting that we'd been able to arrange time up at our vacation home in Heber with so many friends. I had packed the minivan full with big fat coolers, games, and of course my four children. Additionally, my children had three of their friends with us. We set on our way around 5pm.
Close to 5:30pm we passed by my husband's office building. There had been a brief discussion about me maybe waiting for him to finish work, and going together to the cabin, but I decided to just head up without him and get things set up. I consider this MIRACLE NUMBER 1, because if we had gone to the cabin together, there would have been 2 adults to rescue...I don't believe that would have been feasible.
Driving through Provo Canyon, I spoke with my father on the phone, pointed out where the recent avalanche near Bridal Veil Falls had been cleared up and then....nothing. That's the last thing I remember.
Apparently, when I arrived at the cabin, I opened the garage door and immediately smelled gas. I instructed the kids to stay in the car while I investigated. MIRACLE NUMBER 2: The children all remained inside the vehicle, with all doors shut, despite not understanding my reasons and despite their excitement to go inside our favorite vacation spot.
Now at this point many people would say: "You idiot! What were you thinking going in that house??!" But sympathize with me a little here. There are a number of things I could have been smelling. We had four-wheelers, snowmobiles, a small boat, gas cans a-plenty...Besides that, our family had a previous experience with a gas leak several years prior, at a different location, that ended up being such a simple fix I felt silly for calling the fire department at all. In any case, I entered the home to investigate, chatting with my husband on my cell phone as I walked. As I headed in to the basement, the cell phones went silent. The cabin had exploded.
Why did the cabin explode? It was explained to us that it could have been a number of things that sparked the explosion, but with the cabin being obliterated we will never truly know what happened. We do know that the amount of gas that had been inside the cabin must have been building for weeks. We also know that when I entered the home I fed fresh oxygen in, which also helps fuel a fire. At that point anything could have sparked the fire. Flipping a light switch, static from the carpet on my shoes or from my clothing...
Hundreds of people felt the force of the blast. It shook windows and hearts all over Timberlakes neighborhood. Three neighbors who live near by our cabin, one who happened to be a fire-fighter, came running to our aid.
MIRACLE NUMBER 3: These men were home. It's not often in a vacation home area that your neighbors are all home.
MIRACLE NUMBER 4: These men were strong and capable.
MIRACLE NUMBER 5: These men were willing to risk their own lives to dive in to a burning home and save a woman they had never met.
Our children were ushered to safety in a nearby home, and these men circled the property listening for sounds of life, and hoping to find their way to me. They didn't even know where to begin until they heard screams.
MIRACLE NUMBER 6: I could scream. I'd survived an explosion that had blown the right side of my jaw and half my teeth out. I'd been in a burning home for 10 minutes or so, breathing smoke and dealing with a number of crushing injuries, but I remained conscious during the entire rescue, which took approximately 30 minutes.
The lower level of the cabin, where I was stuck, seemed impossible to get in to. Flames were blasting out the two most obvious routes, the basement doorway and the basement garage area. By the way, the garage door itself was later found 75 yards away from the home, which is very telling of the amount of force the blast had created. MIRACLE NUMBER 7: One of the men thought to enter through a lower window, but doing so would require more than just brute strength. He hollered to my oldest daughter Alyssa, who had refused to leave the area until I was safe. "Go get my axe!" he shouted, along with brief instructions of how to find it. Alyssa ran faster than she knew she could as she raced to get the rescue tool, and said she didn't even feel the weight of the 15 pound ax as she handed it over to my heroes. With the help of the ax, they were able to enter the home and begin their search.
The men weaved through the fire, smoke, and sharp debris, cutting their arms and legs as they moved, and damaging their clothing. When they found me my hand was actively on fire and I was trapped - pinned under a large beam, a couch, and other debris. Even with the full strength of these three men, pulling me out was proving impossible. With portions of the home collapsing around them, the decision was made to give one final pull before...before...what even was plan B? MIRACLE NUMBER 8: With unnatural strength, they gave their final pull, and freed me from the claws of the heavy pile-up. Doing so appeared to sever my right foot from the ankle down, but they managed to get me out of the home - an unbelievable feat.
MIRACLE NUMBER 9: Within a minute or two of escaping the fiery home, the upper floors of the cabin completely collapsed. All four of us would have died had we been inside that home only moments before.
MIRACLE NUMBER 10: To escape the heat of the blowing fire, these brave men carried me behind the cover of a snowbank. They tell me I complained of pain and cold, but for my burned body, doctors tell us laying in the snow was the best thing they could have done for me.
Catching their breath, and waiting for an ambulance to arrive, my rescuers now got a good look at my physical condition. My long brown hair was now matted and shriveled around my head. There were severe burns on my hands and arms, legs and face. The right side of my face had been torn open, and most of the teeth on that side were now missing. My right ankle flopped to the side of my leg, held only by the skin around the heel. My left thumb dangled by a thread as well.
It must have been unclear how long I would survive, but they had rescued me from the rubble, and nothing else mattered just yet. I'm sure these wonderful men returned to their homes exhausted and traumatized by the unexpected whirlwind of events. As for me, I hopped hospitals until I finally arrived at the University of Utah Hospital where I remained in a medical coma for 5 days. The trauma team there stabilized me past the point of concerns for my passing. The remainder of the recovery would be a long road...