Runners burnt in Kimberley Ultramarathon

Ultramarathon FireSaturday 3rd September – Excerpt from the Western Australian: A 24-year-old Broome man has spoken of his lucky escape in a freak fire which engulfed the Ultramarathon race yesterday.

Two women are in a critical condition in Darwin Hospital with burns to 60 to 80 per cent of their bodies and two men will be flown to Royal Perth Hospital today with burns to 10 to 20 per cent of their bodies.

Five burns victims were evacuated by the Royal Flying Doctor Service after being caught in the grass fire which blazed through the 100km event staged by Hong-Kong based adventure company Racing The Planet.

Ultramarathon runner Oskar Booth said competitors became trapped in a narrow gorge as the fire approached. Officials called off the event as he crossed the 68km mark. “I was actually in first place when I passed through checkpoint two which apparently was the most damaged,” Mr Booth said.

“The fire came up the ridge and burnt the people further behind us. “I could see thick plumes of smoke and it was hard to breathe, that’s when I realised it was serious. “The people basically got trapped in a narrow gorge as the fire front came through.”

Royal Flying Doctor Service spokeswoman Joanne Hill said the two women, Turia Pitt and Kate Sanderson, aged 36 and 24, had burns to between 60 and 80 per cent of their bodies and may be flown to RPH later today.

“Their injuries are life threatening,” Ms Hill said.

The two men are aged in their 40s or 50s have burns to 10 to 20 per cent of their bodies and are due to be flown from Kununurra to Perth about 1pm.

Witnesses reported seeing up to eight competitors climbing steep ridges to escape the fire.

Two helicopters were called in about 4pm yesterday to take the two severely burnt competitors and three other burns victims to Kununurra District Hospital.

The race, which started at El Questro Station at 8.30am yesterday, was officially called off about 6pm.

Organisers of the event have been posting updates on the Kimberley Ultramarathon 2011 Facebook page.

“Our thoughts are with the Kimberley Ultramarathon competitors who were burned yesterday in the bush fires. All participants involved in the event are off of the course and safe. We regret that we cannot provide more details at this time, but family members of those affected have been contacted.”

Forty-one competitors from 10 nations, including 16 West Australians, were taking part in the event.
Mr Booth said most of the runners were from overseas and the Eastern States.