The sportscaster was making dinner outside of her home on the night of Dec. 11 when she noticed the flame on her grill had gone out and wouldn’t ignite. She turned off the gas but when she reignited it, she says, “the gas exploded in a fire ball.”
“My oldest daughter, she was so calm that night — I basically yelled in, ‘Mommy’s on fire! Call somebody!’ ” Storm, 55, tells PEOPLE. “I ran to my sink and tried to put out the fires because my shirt was on fire, and my hair was on fire. I was just trying to put the flames out as quickly as I could.”
She suffered from first-degree burns to her face and neck and second degree burns to her hands and chest. She says “a little piece” of her nose had also “melted off,” her eyesight was damaged and her hair had been burned off in the blast.
“I had to go to the hospital to the burn unit and it was very frightening, extremely painful and a very difficult recovery,” she says. “It just took months and months and months.”
Though she returned to TV just three weeks after the accident to host the Rose Bowl in Pasadena with bandages and extensions, Storm says it took six months for her to “feel normal” again.
“It’s pretty amazing how your body recovers,” she says. “The fact that my face is fine, and I could go on and do TV was unbelievable. That I had mostly second degree burns on my face rather than third is just a miracle. I’m incredibly grateful because I was able to keep doing what I love to do.”
Since she had burns with different levels of severity, she says her bathroom counter was covered in wraps and all different kinds of ointments. It took about a year for her hair to grow back fully, but luckily, she had her three daughters there to help her every step of the way.
“My youngest daughter, she’s so cute and labeled everything,” she says. “My kids would have to help wrap and unwrap and do all that. They were really great that way and they would have to wash my hair — whatever hair I had left, which wasn’t much.”
Storm says the oldest of her three daughters is “still the same calm person” who called the ambulance for her when the accident happened, her youngest is still the “organized one” who left signs instructing her what medicines to take, and her middle daughter, who was “really scared at the time,” is still the emotional, super sweet one who would do her hair.
“It’s amazing, each child is such a gift and they bring you something different,” she says. “It was just really cool what each of them brought to the equation. Obviously, I felt incredibly blessed as I do now. They’re still manifesting themselves in the same awesome ways that they did back then.”
A post shared by Hannah Storm (@espnhannahstorm) on Dec 24, 2017 at 10:40pm PST
Though Storm was able to recover from her burns, she still feels the effects to this day — both physically and mentally.
“If there’s a temperature change, my hands hurt because of the damage caused by the burns,” she says. “If I’m tired or there’s a temperature change or something like that, I can still feel it in my hands. I still feel the effects of it.”
“Even if I take a hot shower and I get out, there [will be] bright red spots on my chest where the burns were,” she continues. “I can still the see them, and I still have to be careful when I go out in the sun.”
While most of her scarring isn’t visible and the ones on her hands blend in, she says the skin color change from the burns on her chest are noticeable when there’s a temperature change.
“If I’m really hot, you would see all the blotches and stuff,” she says. “You’ll see all of that damage rise to the surface. There’s a lot of collagen creams and things that I use to build the skin back up.”
Mentally, the accident made Storm “slow down” and “take stock” of the things that she’s grateful for. Even five years after the accident, she understandably “will not go near” a gas grill.
“I bought a wood burning grill after that,” she says. “I do not use a gas grill anymore. I’m not saying that you can’t safely do it, but I prefer not to. So I have my cool little wood burning grill that I use, and it’s hysterical.”
By sharing her story, Storm hopes that she can educate people about the potential risks of grilling in the cold weather.
“It was embarrassing because, obviously, I caused it,” she says. “It was my mistake. But at the same time, I don’t want this to happen to anybody else.”