December 1 was a beautiful night to take a drive through the Garden of Lights at Honor Heights Park in Muskogee, Oklahoma. One of the largest and most dramatic Christmas light displays in the region, the park draws people from all over the state each year. My family was among hundreds who made the drive to take in the lights on a balmy 65 degree evening. I took along my camera to get some pictures of our kids with the lights.
But a fun evening turned to terror as the car directly in front of us burst into flames. I’d noticed some smoke apparently coming from the exhaust pipes and my son and I had both been complaining of the smell coming from the car as we slowly drove down the hill behind it. Only seconds before the car erupted in a ball of fire, I told my husband I really thought something might be wrong with it and wondered aloud if we shouldn’t try to get the driver’s attention.
A terrifying situation
When I saw the flames flare up from underneath the car, I jumped out of my van and ran forward screaming at the people to get out. Men passed me, running straight to the car to help the occupants escape. After everyone was safely out, I talked with the Henryetta, Oklahoma family, several of whom made the trip in other vehicles, as the car continued to burn and emergency personnel arrived on the scene.
Five people, including two young children and three older ladies, were in the car that caught fire. Both the children escaped the vehicle unharmed. Esperanza Sharp, also escaped. She told me she could smell the smoke and feel heat coming through the air vents moments before the car caught fire, but they didn’t know they were in danger.
Sarah Patterson, age 94, and Lucy Alford, a disabled woman who depended on a walker, were not so fortunate. Thankfully, with the help of good Samaritans, they also managed to escape the burning vehicle and were transported to the hospital.
Heroes in our midst
I talked with one of the men who ran to the rescue. Chris Eischen is a young father who was stopped in the park with his wife and baby. His wife was changing the baby’s diaper when she heard me screaming for the family to get out of the car. Before she could look up, her husband was gone. He pulled Lucy Alford to safety. Others helped Patterson, the elderly grandmother, out of the car.
I always thought if I happened upon a scene like this, I would be one of the people helping victims to escape. But as the fire seemed to explode from the vehicle, I froze. I was so scared, more scared than I have ever been in my life. I could see at least one occupant in the car as the flames rose, and I couldn’t make myself go closer.
Eischen didn’t want recognition for his bravery, but he’s a hero. He saved a life tonight. I don’t know who the other men were who dove into the flames to save the women, but they are heroes, too. I thank God for them. Things were lost, a car was lost, but it could have been so much worse. May our prayers be with them tonight, and with the family as they care for their injured and try to get through this traumatic event.
More by Tavia:
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Do Your Kids Know What to Do in an Emergency?
How Universities Help Students Cope with a Tragic Loss