Shining moments: Cool, calm and collected

In August 1997, Ruth Orien had just lit some charcoal briquettes to cook hamburgers at the family cabin at Crooked Lake, Alaska, when she accidently knocked over a can of gasoline. The gasoline caught fire and quickly spread over the entry of the cabin. In the excitement, she tripped and fell into the flames.

Her 10-year-old son, Joseph, was inside reading a book when the shrill screams of his mother sent him scurrying to the door. Flames and black smoke blocked his view, but he could hear her writhing in pain.

Joseph found a 7-gallon water container inside the cabin and doused the flames as he fought his way out. He found his mother on fire and quickly put out the flames. Joseph then ran back and forth to the lake to refill the container — a container which nearly matched him in size and weight.

"It was a remarkable feat," said Sister Orien of the Anchorage 10th Ward, Anchorage Alaska Stake. "How he could lift and carry such a container was amazing. He remained cool, calm and collected."

Joseph tended to the fire until all was safe. "We had commented several times that day how peaceful the lake was. There was no else but ourselves. But our isolation suddenly became a detriment.

"Our cabin is accessible only by boat, after a 25-mile car ride from the nearest town of Wasilla, Alaska. I didn't know what to do except pray," Sister Orien said. "Right then we saw a boat go across the lake. I told Joseph he would have to find them and get help. The only available boat was a small aluminum V-bottom boat with a pull-start motor. Joseph had never driven it alone. He managed to start it and take off across the lake.

"I was pretty scared for him," she continued. "There was no weight in the front, leaving the front end unusually high which blocked his view, leaving him to weave across the lake."

After a while, he found the boaters, who happened to be acquaintances from Anchorage. Together they went to Sister Orien and transported her across the lake to the hospital in Wasilla.

Sister Orien received third-degree burns on her left arm and leg, requiring skin grafts and three months of couch-ridden rehabilitation.

During this time, Joseph, the youngest of her six children, stayed nearby. "For a long time after the accident, he hardly went out and didn't play at all," said Sister Orien. For his bravery, Joseph received the Honor Medal with Crossed Palms from the Boy Scouts of America.

— Shaun Stahle

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