SWEET HOME — April 11, 2009, was a cool spring night. And on that night, two lives changed forever.

On that day, Courtney Lake — now Courtney Paul — and a group of neighbors were enjoying the warmth of a backyard fire. But when someone added racing gasoline, the resulting high-octane explosion burned Lake over more than 50% of her body and also seriously injured fellow Sweet Home resident Lynn Donnell Damewood.

Both women survived after being treated for two months at the Legacy Oregon Burn Center at Legacy Emanuel Medical Center in Portland.

On Oct. 19, Paul is spearheading an evening of music, food and beer called “Rise Above the Burn” at The Barn at Hickory Station, 640 NW Hickory St., Albany. The event will raise funds for the center, with a goal of $10,000. Paul’s husband, Ryan Paul, is a Sweet Home firefighter. He and friends will “pass the boot” for donations. 

Guest speakers include Damewood, plus burn center nurses Curtis Ryan and Erin Malmgren. Entertainment will be provided by area performers Southern Comfort and Jobe Woosley & Co. The $25 ticket include admission and a ticket for a free beer. Food will be available for purchase at several food trucks. Tickets can be purchased online at “Rise Above the Burn.” 

Sponsors include AmeriTitle, Republic Services, Sweet Home Fire & Ambulance District, Albany Fire Department, Country Financial, Willamette Valley Agency, Fairway Mortgage, West Coast Industrial, Western University of Health Sciences, Pacific Power and Cadwell Realty Group.

“I try to do something every year on my burn anniversary,” the 31-year-old Paul said. “The burn center has done so much for me, I want to do this for them and, I hope, keep it going to create a foundation.”

Although Paul doesn’t recall much about her time at the burn center, because she was under anesthesia to dull the pain, she does remember being on fire.

“I was wearing a hoodie and I knew I had to get if off and stop, drop and roll because my dad was a firefighter-paramedic and had taught me and my sisters to do that,” she said. “I counted to three, took a deep breath so I wouldn’t burn my lungs and pulled it off me.”

Paul also attempted to run away from the flames and stop, drop and roll, and her cousin, Gabe Lindsay, knocked her to the ground.

“It was extremely painful,” Paul said. “Childbirth was nothing compared to it.”

During her recovery at the burn center, she had to be fed through a tube in her throat.

“The hair had melted to my head and doctors thought I might lose an ear and part of my lips,” Paul said.

Fortunately, she healed quickly and skin from her second-degree burns was used for grafts on the 48% of her lower body which was severely burned.

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Both women underwent long hours of physical therapy after leaving the center.

Paul said her father’s paramedic background was vital. Her mother, Lois, took a leave of absence from the Sweet Home School District, and the couple learned how to change their daughter’s bandages and help her avoid infections.

The first year was a painful journey back to normalcy, Paul said, but she healed amazingly well.

“I still have some issues, but nothing major,” she said. “I am very careful about being in the sun and I have had to have ‘z-plasty’ operations because burn-damaged skin loses its elasticity because of scar tissue.”

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Paul said she has challenged herself to run a 5K and to go whitewater rafting on the Rogue River with other former burn center patients.

“It was 50 miles and we stayed in cabins along the way,” she said. “It was awesome and it was great being around others who have varying degrees of burns and healing. Some lose their limbs.”

Paul said the burn center offers outreach programs for burn victims. She is especially touched by programs that help young people.

“They teach girls how to apply makeup that is used in Hollywood,” she said. “That does amazing things for their self-confidence. They also have summer camps for kids.”

And Paul is doing her part with "Rise Above the Burn."

“Burn victims are rare in rural areas, so we hope to raise awareness and raise money with this event,” she said. “We hope people will learn a little more about how to interact with someone who has been burned. It’s not easy.” 

The Pauls have three children, Braden, 10, Bristol, 8, and Tanner, 7.

A 2006 Sweet Home High School graduate, Paul is a business development representative at AmeriTitle in Lebanon.

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