Santa Rosa student burned by barbecue shortly after losing home in Glass fire

Madelyn Decker remains at a San Francisco hospital recovering after her hands, face and abdomen were burned in an accident at a barbecue.|

Following a series of personal tragedies, Madelyn Decker is counting her blessings.

Less than two months after the Santa Rosa Junior College student lost the house she was renting and most of her possessions in the Glass fire in late September, an accident at a backyard barbecue left her severely burned and in the hospital.

“I could look at this in two different ways,” Decker said in a video interview from St. Francis Memorial Hospital in San Francisco. “I could be completely negative about it. I could be disrespectful to my nurses, and I could be an old grump. Or I can be happy and wake up feeling that I’m alive and grateful I’m not in a worse position.”

A big reason for Decker’s positive outlook is the outpouring of support from her family and close friends. Her boyfriend, Jake McClendon, a firefighter with the Rancho Adobe Fire Protection District, was there for her in the hospital after skin graft surgery on her hands and face. Her brother, Chip, helps her scroll through scores of social media messages of well wishes. And the students of one of Decker’s former teachers made her hand-drawn flowers that decorate her hospital room.

“Just imagine yourself in a stadium and the seats are filled with so many people cheering and clapping for you,” Chip Decker said of his sister. “We love you.”

In addition, a GoFundMe campaign set up by Decker’s family to replace what was destroyed in the blaze and cover medical expenses has raised over $24,000 from more than 200 donors as of Friday.

“It’s been overwhelming,” her mother, Nicola Decker, said of the donations, “particularly in this time of the wretched 2020.”

When Madelyn Decker, 23, evacuated her house between St. Helena and Calistoga during the Glass fire, she took only a few essentials to her boyfriend’s home, expecting to return in a couple of days. She ended up losing most of her clothes, furniture, school supplies, equestrian equipment and family heirlooms in the blaze.

Then on Nov. 5, while attending a barbecue with friends at a home in Cotati, Decker was badly burned after the cap flew off a lighter fluid bottle that was being squirted into a fire pit, sending flames in the air. Decker suffered first-, second- and third-degree burns to her face, hands and parts of her abdomen and thighs.

Decker’s family said the incident was an accident.

Doctors expect Decker’s recovery to take about a year, her family said. She’s responding well to her recent surgery, which included an artificial skin treatment to induce the regeneration of skin on her face.

Once she recovers, Decker plans to transfer to California State University in Chico to study agricultural education and animal science. She’s also looking forward to again horseback riding, gardening and spending time with her friends and dog, Cowboy.

Decker hopes the same kindness she’s received is extended to everyone struggling amid the coronavirus pandemic.

“In a world that’s so cut off right now, people have forgotten what it is to have love and compassion,” Decker said. “If we could show the tiniest amount of love and compassion to our everyday passerby, that would make living in this time a little more bearable.”

You can reach Staff Writer Ethan Varian at or 707-521-5412. On Twitter @ethanvarian

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