Anita Ferguson, 38, was settling in for a night of footy and dinner with her children in the backyard of their Campbelltown home where they'd stay warm around a fire pit. But in a split second, everything changed for the mum-of-six when the flick of a match left her screaming in pain.
"As she's gone to throw the tiniest bit of petrol on the fire just to get it going, it exploded and just engulfed her," her brother Mark Ferguson, 37, told Yahoo News Australia. "It's gone up and burned her arm, her face, her shoulder, chest, and all around her neck as well. She's got the high end of second-degree burns on 30 per cent of her body."
Son responds to mum's screams
Anita's 15-year-old son, Bryson, responded to his mum's piercing screams, rushing outside to find her on fire. Her other five children — including two foster kids — were also home at the time.
"He's just turned around and ran to the bathroom to get the shower ready for her," Mark said. "She's very lucky that she was alert enough to close her eyes and mouth because once you get burns into your eyes and mouth, it then truly turns catastrophic."
The 38-year-old disability support worker stayed in the shower until paramedics arrived and transported her to Concord Hospital, some 50 minutes from their home. Paramedics "treated her, wrapped her and addressed her pain," Mark said. "She was in excruciating pain".
Family devastated by extent of injuries
Anita, a single mum, spent the next four nights in the hospital where she underwent surgery before eventually being released on Tuesday. But the mum, whose marriage broke down last year, has a long three months ahead of her with therapy as her skin begins to heal.
"She's got staples all down her arm and across the top of her face going into a skull," Mark explained, detailing the "artificial skin" doctors have had to use on his sister. "She's so prone to infections right now that everyone going near her has to sanitise. The kids can't hug their mum without going and sanitising or having a shower first."
Anita's children — aged 2 to 19 — are "absolutely devastated," with her youngest daughter, Carly, "really scared and concerned [about] what's going to happen with mum".
Mark said Anita was worried about how she'd look. "I'm never going to look the same," she told him. Doctors were "unable to comment on any permanent scarring at this stage," her brother said.
Money raised to help during long recovery
Mark and his sister, Anita's twin Jenna, have stepped in to help look after the kids while the 38-year-old learns to adjust to her new, temporary way of life. The siblings have set up a GoFundMe page to help cover the cost of bills while she recovers at home.
"The recovery, we don't know what it fully looks like," Mark said. "They're predicting three to six months before she can return to work. She only works 15 hours a week, but those 15 hours — that $400 she earns — is what keeps the wheels in the house turning."
Cooler weather warning: 'Remain cautious'
As we move into the cooler months, the family say this is a lesson for everyone.
"It's not the time to become complacent," Mark warned. "We're all using our fireplaces, heaters, and fire pits in the backyard. It's time to remain cautious so that no other family has to go through what they're going through."
Do you have a story tip? Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.