HANCOCK COUNTY — When Grace McCartney felt the flames hit her legs, she thought she was going to die.

It happened in a split second at a bonfire earlier this summer, when someone tossed accelerant on the fire. The flames spread quickly, singeing Grace’s legs.

Grace, 16, threw herself to the ground and rolled, determined to extinguish the fire that would leave her with second- and third-degree burns.

Those who know Grace say that fighting spirit has been integral to her recovery. The Eastern Hancock High School junior endured through the most painful thing she’s ever experienced in her short life to join her dance troupe, the Ricochet Cloggers, at the Indiana State Fair.

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McCartney stomped and tapped alongside her fellow dancers, indistinguishable from her peers in the dance troupe despite being two months into a six-month or longer recovery from second- and third-degree burns on the back of her legs.

“She’s taking it day by day,” said mother Lais McCartney. “She’s tired and in pain a lot, but overall, she’s staying positive.”

Grace, who was the only teen injured at a party last June, didn’t know how badly she was injured at the time, she said.

“I didn’t think the burns were that serious until I started to see my skin melting off,” she said. “I was trying to reassure my friends that I was OK.”

It was more than an hour until she made it to a hospital.

She didn’t call an ambulance; instead, she caught a ride to her Knightstown home, where her parents immediately took her to the Henry County Hospital in New Castle — and shortly after, Grace was transported via ambulance to the Riley Hospital for Children’s burn center, where she underwent treatment for the next four days.

But she’s lucky; she won’t need skin grafts or surgery to fix the damage from the burns, Lais McCartney said. She’s grateful the injury wasn’t worse, but it’s hard to see the discoloration on her daughter’s legs, a reminder of so much pain.

Though the physical pain from the burns and treating them had been indescribable, the experience was an emotional roller coaster as well, Grace said.

“When it first happened, I was very upset and sad. I felt like it was my fault,” she said. “I just — I’ve never really had to go to the hospital for an emergency situation.”

But the staff members in the Riley burn unit reassured her and kept her spirits up, Grace said.

Their optimism and friendliness kept her motivated, encouraging her to stay moving to prevent scarring and to improve her mood, she said.

Grace has had to wear a series of bandages, including heavy wraps with silver in them to prevent infection, she said. Doctors switched to a more lightweight bandage in June, giving the teen a little more freedom to move around. Despite the pain, she jogged up and down a flight of stairs at the hospital as soon as her lighter bandages were applied, she said.

She also looked forward to showering with the lightweight bandages, since the heavier silver bandages couldn’t get wet, she said.

While her legs are still healing and extremely sensitive, Grace said she’s in much less pain. The biggest bother is keeping out of the sun, she said — she’s much more likely to get skin cancer now, doctors told her, so she has to slather on the sunscreen and stay in the shade as much as possible.

As Grace performed with her dance troupe Saturday, it was hard to tell she’s endured so much this summer.

She was determined from the beginning of her recovery, clogging instructor Annie Wing said.

“I talked to her the day after the fire, she was in the hospital, and she said, ‘I’m ready to dance,'” Wing said. “Grace is always super-positive. Even if everybody else is doom and gloom, she’s the comic relief.”

And she’ll keep pushing herself, she said. The morning of her performance at the state fair, she went for a run. Compared to running, dancing is a breeze, she said.

“I’m just glad to be alive,” she said. “It has been and will be a long journey of healing, but it’s also been a great experience of being around wonderful people.”

More to do at the Indiana State Fair

Thursday

9 a.m. at the Greenhouse: Indiana’s Urban Garden

  • Participate in an interactive scavenger hunt and Receive a takeout garden. These small “to go” containers are filled with everything needed to plant your own garden at home or school.

1 p.m. at the Purdue Extension Agriculture/Horticulture Building: Watermelon seed-spitting contest 

  • Compete with other fair-goers and see who can spit their watermelon seed the farthest!

Friday

12 p.m. at the Purdue Extension Agriculture/Horticulture Building: Cheese Sculpture unveiling 

  • Sarah Kaufmann, “The Cheese Lady,” carved a tableau out of 50 40-pound blocks of Indiana mild cheddar cheese. Come see the sculpture in person.

7:30 p.m. at the Chevrolet Silverado Free Stage: Blue October 

  • Blue October is an American alternative rock band originally from Houston, Texas. The band was formed in 1995.

Saturday

9 a.m., Pioneer Village Opry House: Fiddle Contest 

  • The Indiana State Fair Fiddle Contest is held in partnership with Traditional Arts Indiana.

9 a.m., State Fair Boulevard: Barbecue Contest 

  • Competitors will be judged for appearance, taste and tenderness of the meat they cook, including chicken, pork loin, pork ribs and bacon. Awards will be given to first through third in each category at 5 p.m.

5 p.m., Hoosier Lottery Grandstand: Cheerleading Contest Finals 

  • Cheerleaders from Indiana junior high, middle and high schools prepared 2-minute routines to show off their best moves.
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Rorye Hatcher is a reporter at the Greenfield Daily Reporter. She can be reached at ​317-477-3211 or rhatcher@greenfieldreporter.com.