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Ultra Runners Badly Burned in Australian Bush Fire

Rob Howard / 05.09.2011
Four competitors in the Kimberley Ultramarthon, which is run by Racing the Planet, have been badly burned after being caught by a freak bushfire last Friday.

The race was hit by tragedy when some of the competitors were trapped in a gorge by a rapidly advancing bush fire. Some racers had already passed through the area but Kate Sanderson, Turia Pitt, Michael Hull, and South African racer Martin Van Der Merwe were trapped and caught by the fire and suffered serious burns.

The two women have suffered 60-80% burns and are now in critical condition and fighting for lives, while the men have 10 to 20% burns. The CEO and Founder of Racing the Planet, Mary Gadams was taking part in the race and was caught up in the incident, suffering minor burns and has subsequently been released from hospital. It took several hours for helicopters from the Royal Flying Doctor Service to reach the remote location close to the El Questro station near the town of Kununurra, which is on Australia’s N.W. coast. The injured runners were subsequently flown to hospitals in the region for specialist burns and emergency treatment.

According to a report in The Australian Michael Hull (44) said it was a horrendous situation. "Probably the scariest time in my life, to hear the girls just screaming and there was nothing we could do," he said. The Royal Flying Doctor Service's Joanne Hill said she spoke to Mr Hull, who explained how they had been left no choice, but to try and outrun the fire.

"He said he heard a roaring sound behind him and before he knew it there was a wall of fire right behind them," Ms Hill said. "There was nowhere for them to go because of the gorge. They couldn't go backwards, they couldn't scramble up the side, so they basically had to try and outrun it."

Hull, who is from the Central Coast of NSW, is a regular ultra competitor around the world and a 9 time Ironman finisher. Van Der Merwe (56), who works at a gold mine in Ghana reportedly entered the with his son Shaun and was profiled on the Racing the Planet website before the event.

Pitt (24) is from the South Coast of Australia, but has been working in Western Australia with Argyle Diamonds. She is a marathon runner, model and charity worker. Sanderson (35) is from Victoria and is a regular adventure racer. She was a part of the team Dukes of Hazard at XPD Cairns and manned many of the transition areas as a volunteer at XPD Australia Alps. She has now reportedly been transferred to the Alfred Hospital in Melbourne.

The latest statement from the event states; RacingThePlanet is currently working with the Fire and Emergency Services Authority of Western Australia (FESA), an arson unit and the police to gather all information around the bushfire that affected the Kimberley Ultramarathon on 2 September 2011. An investigation is currently underway that we hope will determine the exact cause and nature of the fire that injured participants in the event. Kate K. Sanderson, Turia Pitt, Michael Hull, and Martin Van Der Merwe are in our thoughts and prayers and are currently receiving treatment in various hospitals

Go to the next page to see the a video report from Sky News.

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