Manitoban Crystal Theberge said she is glad to be alive after her 2005 Grand Caravan went up in flames at a campground in Whiteshell last weekend on May 18 while she was sleeping inside.
“I feel like I should’ve died and for some reason, I didn’t and I am so thankful that I get to be here with my family still,” Theberge said.
Theberge was three days into her camping trip with her family at their seasonal lot at Big Whiteshell Campground. She said she decided to sleep inside the van for the night and awoke to a terrifying scene.
“I woke up around two in the morning and the entire front cabin was on fire and the seats in the front were on fire and it all just happened so fast and honestly I don’t even remember getting out of the car,” she said.
The fire was spreading quickly and she said she had to struggle to get a door open to escape.
“One of the side doors doesn’t open from the inside and that was the side that was facing my dad, where he was sleeping in his camper van and I couldn’t get the door open.”
Theberge managed to escape but she suffered third-degree burns on her arm and severe smoke inhalation. Her family said she barely made it out in time.
“I must’ve breathed in so much smoke because I had smoke big charcoal lines under my nose, my hair was black, and I didn’t even know I was burned until I had finally woken up my dad.”
She said the experience was the worst thing she has ever gone through and she is still very shaken up from the incident, to the point where she can’t remember the specifics of her escape. She described it as a “survival blackout.”
“Eventually I got out of the other side door but I honestly don’t remember how I got out of the vehicle, I only remember about a split second of the fire and just utter fear and horror and thinking I was going to die,”
Theberge said she and her family called the police and one RCMP officer showed up with an empty fire extinguisher but fire services never came and neither did paramedics.
She said the incident could have been so much worse as the campsite didn’t suffer severe damage, everyone’s belongings around the campsite were okay and of course, she survived.
The cause of the fire is currently unknown but Theberge said her family had the car for a number of years and there was nothing wrong with it that could have caused this and they are still waiting on answers from MPI.
She said MPI has provided her with some counselling as she is suffering from bad PTSD from the incident. “I am not really eating, I am not really sleeping, when I close my eyes all I see are flames and you know if I get too hot in my blanket you know I think I am on fire again.”
Theberge urges people to learn from on her experience and take precautions if they are going to sleep inside a vehicle. “I beg of you, everyone listening, everyone who even catches a glimpse of this story, please if you’re going to sleep in a vehicle or any type of enclosed space, please install some sort of smoke detector, C02 detector, something.”
“You don’t wanna wake up on fire, you wanna wake up before the fire is either bad or you know before it starts or you know when there’s just smoke still and you have time. I was told I had you know five minutes or less or I wouldn’t have gotten out and I was told it was amazing that I even woke up in the first place because of just the black smoke and the C02 poisoning.”