It was Christmas night 2010. Tracy Roblero was attending a large family gathering when out-of-town relatives showed up for a surprise visit. During the excitement and commotion, Tracy's 20-month-old daughter, Julianna, managed to sneak away from the festivities. Moments later, there were panicked cries from the bathroom down the hall. A lit candle on the corner of the sink had ignited the toddler's dress.

“I immediately let out a scream of terror and grabbed Julianna off the counter," Roblero recalls. " I could only think of putting the fire out, and started patting down the flames with my hand.”

Family members rushed in to help, and called an ambulance. But the road to recovery would be extremely difficult.

A traumatic experience

Julianna suffered third-degree burns covering the left side of her body, and spent three weeks at Shriners Hospitals for Children®.

“They treated Julianna's physical scars, and also our emotional ones. Julie was in a lot of pain,” Roblero says. “She wouldn't eat, she wouldn't talk and she had to remain on her back for seven straight days.”

"What had been a yearly tradition in our family became a tragedy in literally a few seconds. It’s amazing how fast it all happened.”

As part of her ongoing recovery, Julianna underwent a release surgery and several laser treatments to help smooth out the scars. As she grows, she will need additional operations to allow her to maintain joint movement and develop properly.

“I'm doing good,” says the energetic 8-year-old, who enjoys singing, spending time with friends and playing with her cat. Julianna also understands the need to speak out about the tragic incident that changed her life in an instant.

“It's important, so that other kids don't get hurt,” she says. “And I don't want kids who have scars to feel bad about themselves.”

Getting the word out

For Roblero, making others aware of her daughter's ordeal is a priority, even though it hasn't been easy.

“It took me quite a while to be able to talk about the incident, as I was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress syndrome. But, in the end, it has made us grateful for every moment we have, as we know how quickly and easily bad things can happen.”

Roblero also discusses the importance of teaching fire-safety to young children.

“As parents, we  do a good job of teaching our children that fire is hot, but I don't think they understand that you need to keep a safe distance from open flames, and just how quickly fire can spread," she says.

Decorating responsibly

“Candles can be festive and fun, but if you use them, never leave lit candles unattended, anywhere,” Roblero cautions. “Watch young children closely around any kind of flame or heat source.”

She continues, “This experience has changed the way that we decorate our house all year long. We no longer use candles in any decorating. We like flameless candles for the look of candles. There are several products on the market that provide the same smell, such as wax warmers, incense and air fresheners.”

According to a survey conducted by Shriners Hospitals for Children, 25 percent of the respondents report that they leave lit candles unattended in their homes, while 27 percent display them within the reach of children. And candles aren't the only fire hazard.

"Water live Christmas trees every day, and get rid of them when they’re dry," Roblero advises. "A dry tree can ignite in seconds."

Trees should  also be kept away from heaters, flames and draperies. Inspect lights for bare wires, and never use indoor lights outside.

 As for holiday baking, "Keep a lid or cookie sheet nearby, in case you need to put out a cooking fire," says Roblero. 

She adds, "What had been a yearly tradition in our family became a tragedy in literally a few seconds. It’s amazing how fast it all happened.”

For more safety information, education and materials visit Be Burn Aware