Central Coast residents are rallying around a local family, including a high school agriculture teacher, after several members were seriously burned in a freak accident during a camping trip.
“While camping on Thanksgiving with family and friends, an outdoor heating device erupted, spraying hot fuel on Gretchen, Graham, their 16-year-old son, Braiden, and Gretchen’s father, Richard,” according to the GoFundMe page started by Graham’s longtime friend, Ian Charnley.
Several families, including Lompoc residents Gretchen and Graham Flaherty and their children, had traveled to the Ridgecrest area to spend the Thanksgiving weekend camping when the incident occurred mid-day Thursday.
“It just basically was a fireball in the camp,” Charnley told Noozhawk on Saturday.
As the fire engulfed Atascadero resident Richard Mullins, his daughter, Gretchen Flaherty, jumped on top of him to try to extinguish the flames.
“She literally tackled him to try to put him out. That’s the type of person she is,” Charnley said.
Charnley’s son grabbed a fire extinguisher from his truck and began spraying the burning pair.
“It was pretty horrific,” Charnley said, adding that others in the group were shaken by the incident.
Gretchen Flaherty, a Lompoc High School agriculture department chair and FFA adviser, and her father received severe burns. Her husband and son also were badly burned, but had injuries confined to smaller areas of their bodies.
The family members were taken to several hospitals. Mullins was flown by medical helicopter to Arrowhead Regional Medical Center’s burn center in the San Bernardino area, while Gretchen, Graham and Braiden Flaherty initially were taken by ambulance to Ridgecrest Regional Hospital.
After initially being treated there, Gretchen Flaherty was then transferred to the burn unit at Memorial Hospital in Bakersfield, where she likely will remain for the next several weeks.
“All involved suffered second- and third-degree burns, with Gretchen and her father suffering the worst injuries which will require numerous surgeries and skin grafts,” the GoFundMe page stated. “Aside from the long and painful recovery process, this will take a huge financial toll on the family through lost work combined with medical expenses.”
Charnley and Graham Flaherty have been friends since they were children in Atascadero, where Gretchen Flaherty also grew up.
“They’re just a really great family, wonderful kids. Graham’s a great dad. Gretchen’s really involved in the community,” Charnley said.
As word of the accident spread on social media, several colleagues and friends noted Gretchen Flaherty’s generous spirit in helping her community.
Under Gretchen Flaherty’s leadership, the Lompoc High FFA chapter’s members collected toys that were donated to Lompoc Valley Medical Center for children admitted as patients.
Graham Flaherty has worked as a Mercedes-Benz mechanic at Santa Barbara Auto Group.
The Flaherty children, Braiden and Kellon, attend Lompoc High School and are involved in sports, including track and golf. Their daughter, Ainsley, attends Vandenberg Middle School and plays soccer and softball.
“They’re not just people that sit at home. They’re very involved in the community,” Charnley said. “Prayers for this wonderful family would be greatly appreciated at this trying time, and any financial contribution would be extremely helpful.”
The GoFundMe page for the Flaherty and Mullins families had raised more than $30,900 toward a $50,000 goal as of Sunday afternoon.