‘I should have died’: Winnipeg woman escapes burning vehicle during Whiteshell camping trip

A Winnipeg woman is grateful to be alive after the vehicle she was sleeping in caught fire in the middle of the night during an eastern Manitoba camping trip.

Crystal Theberge and her father drove from Winnipeg to the Big Whiteshell Lake campground Monday to stay at their seasonal lot. Theberge had been sleeping on a mattress in the back of her 2005 Dodge Caravan. “We had taken the back seats out because we were just going to use it as a tent for the summer,” said Theberge. “When I went to bed everything was fine, nothing was out of the ordinary.”

As she slept in the vehicle early Thursday morning, Theberge was woken by smoke and intense heat. “I woke up at 2 a.m. there was a wall of flames, like the entire front cabin was on fire,” she said.

Her head still foggy from sleep medication, Theberge tried escaping through the van’s side sliding door. “I tried to open that door and it wouldn’t open,” said an emotional Theberge. “I don’t really remember much, I just remember the flames.”

Theberge doesn’t know how she got out of the burning vehicle, but once out, she quickly woke up her father.

“I was banging on the door, I’m like ‘dad the car’s on fire, I don’t know what to do!” said Theberge.

The two moved as many things away from the flames as they could, then Theberge had to drive their other car to find a spot with cell reception so she could call 911.

Theberge said the fire had mostly burned out by the time emergency crews arrived almost an hour later.

“The windows were exploding, the tires were exploding, glass was flying, shrapnel was flying,” she described. “It was one of the scariest things I’ve ever been through.”

CTV News Winnipeg has reached out fire officials for details.

Theberge suffered 3rd degree burns on her left arm during the incident but was otherwise unharmed. “I’m really lucky this is all that happened to me,” she said.  I’m glad my dad is okay, I’m glad the park didn’t catch on fire.”

The van is being transported back to Winnipeg so Manitoba Public Insurance investigators can determine the cause of the fire.

Theberge’s family has started a GoFundMe campaign to help pay for the destroyed vehicle, and other personal items lost in the blaze.

She has been recovering at her parents’ Winnipeg apartment. “I haven’t slept for two days, all I see are flames in my head,” Theberge said.

She wants to warn people about what happened to her. She said it could happen to anyone. “Be safe out there while camping, have a fire extinguisher, install smoke detectors where you can,” she said.

Theberge is just grateful to be safe. “I don’t know how I made it out alive, because I should have died.”

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