Five months after bonfire explosion, teens on road to recovery

LOMBARD, Ill. — Friends Korryn Bachner and Alyssa Wolff are back cheering on their teams at Glenbard East High School.

But it's tough for Korryn to do that much. She's not back to full strength.

Korryn was one of several suburban teenagers injured in a bonfire explosion this summer. Gas was poured on the fire, causing vapors to ignite and explode into a group of teens sitting around it.

Five months later, for some of the survivors, it feels like yesterday.

"It's good to get back to things," Alyssa said. "Cheerleading, school ... I missed it all."

Alyssa spent six days at the Loyola Medicine Burn Center, her face and hands covered in bandages to help with the healing process. Now, you can barely tell she went through such trauma — at least physically. She was the least injured of all the kids.

Korryn was in the hospital for 13 days. Her bandages are now removed, but she must constantly put Aquaphor on her face to keep it from drying. She will start speech therapy next week. Korryn now wears a hat and sunglasses when she leaves the house. At night, she wears a compression mask. Korryn tries to be optimistic and patient.

"I hope one day I'll look the same again," Korryn said. "Not exactly, but close."

Ivan Galarza's recovery is taking much longer. He spent months in the hospital and had numerous surgeries. He's not back at school yet but is able to go out a little. Doctors will have to perform reconstructive surgery on his ear and neck. And next week, he'll start five hours of therapy a day.

Autumn Hamilton was injured the worst. She's recovering at Shriners burn unit in Texas but is expected to return home later this month and continue rehabilitation in Illinois. She's hoping to return to school next year. Korryn and Alyssa text her daily.

As the days get colder and bonfire season begins, the teens' families want people to be more careful. Some safety tips: Never use an accelerant. Use dry tinder leaves or twigs. Don't throw anything in the fire. Make sure an adult is present. Keep 15 feet away. Have a hose or blanket nearby. And always: Stop, drop and roll.

"These kids thank God they all lived," Korryn's mother, Ellen Bachner, said. "It could have been so much worse."

Alyssa and Korryn are excited to go to Homecoming this weekend at Glenbard East. These friends have all been through a traumatic experience, but said they also learned life lessons.

"I guess you could say I'm more cautious, more, like, thoughtful in a way of other people. What I say and how — it could affect someone because you never know what could happen at any second."

Alyssa says she doesn’t think she’ll ever go to a bonfire again. There are just some memories that are too painful to relive.

GoFundMe campaigns were set up to help cover medical costs for these students:

Alyssa Wolf

Korryn Bachner

Ivan Galaza

Autumn Hamilton

Oscar Berrum