BOISE -- A Boise lawmaker is recovering after she was seriously burned by hot oil Wednesday night.
Rep. Ilana Rubel, a Democrat representing the 18th District in Boise, said the accident happened as she was helping her daughter and her daughter's friend cook deep-fried cactus for a Spanish class project. She said there was less than an inch of oil inside the large pasta pot when the teens put it on the burner.
"Next thing I knew, they were like 'Aaahh, it's on fire!'" Rubel recalled.
At first, the flames looked minor. Rubel got the kids out of the room, then grabbed the pot to set it outside on the cement patio.
"In retrospect, I really wish I would have just taken a cookie sheet and covered the pot, but I wasn't thinking in the heat of the moment," she said.
As she moved toward the door, the oil in the pot exploded, she said.
"Flames leapt like three feet into the air and just exploded all over me, all over my face and neck and chest and arms and hands and everything," she said. "Then it was really difficult to keep holding it all the way to get it outside, once I was on fire. I knew I had to get it out of the house."
Somehow, Rubel maintained her grip on the pot until she was outside, she said. Her daughter called 911, and an ambulance rushed the lawmaker to Saint Alphonsus Regional Medical Center for treatment, where she spent several days.
Her injuries were so severe doctors contemplated airlifting her to the Salt Lake City burn center. Rubel said she suffered second-degree burns to her face, neck and chest, and more severe third-degree burns to her arms and hand.
She described the pain from the oil burns as "excruciating."
"Everything they say about the pain of burns is true and then some," she said.
The representative has been released from the hospital and is recovering at home, but will need to either return to Saint Alphonsus or make the trip to Salt Lake for skin grafts to her right arm. Rubel also expects to need extensive physical therapy as she recovers.
Despite her injuries, she said she is thankful none of the children were burned.
"I am profoundly grateful that it's not worse, I'm really grateful that I wasn't blinded by it and I'm most of all grateful that this happened to me and not to my daughter or her friend," she said.
Rubel said she's not sure how long a full recovery will take. Right now, getting around her house and holding anything is proving difficult enough. The legislator hopes she will be able to go outdoors and get back to some of her normal activities within six weeks.
She said her experience has been eye-opening about how quickly a situation can turn dangerous.
"This whole thing happened in 30 seconds or less," she said."It just was the last thing in the world I was expecting to happen under the circumstances. You just don't expect a little oil in a pot could possibly do that to you."