Decades after 70 percent of her body was burned in house fire, Colorado mom vies for beauty pageant crown
WINDSOR — Danette Haag dreamed of becoming a beauty queen, strutting the runways in flowing gowns.
Growing up in eastern Iowa, she’d dress up as a princess, her favorite being Cinderella, or as the Miss America contestants she’d see on TV.
Then the fire happened.
A faulty valve in the furnace caused a gas leak. When Haag’s mother turned on the hot water, it ignited the fumes, and the house went up in flames. A ball of fire emerged from the basement stairs and engulfed 10-year-old Haag.
The family was hosting a 4-H event at the time of the explosion. Almost 30 girls were inside the home. Everyone made it out alive, but Haag, her brother and her father “were the worst burned,” she said.
Seventy percent of Haag’s body was burned. She spent her middle- and high-school years undergoing skin grafts, pressure garments and face masks.
Her dreams of becoming a pageant queen seemed to go up in smoke in the fire.
“I remember after the fires watching the Miss America pageant that year, getting excited and that dream built up in me again,” Haag said. “Then, the realization of, ‘Well, that’s never going to happen.’ Looking at those women on stage I thought, ‘I’ll never attain that type of beauty ever again.’”
Through decades of healing her scars — both mental and physical through faith in herself and a higher being — Haag, like Cinderella herself, will see her wish come true.
Haag, a 48-year-old mother of four, is participating in Mrs. Colorado this weekend. She is Mrs. Windsor, one of about 35 women from Colorado vying for the crown. Ten women will also compete for Mrs. Wyoming. The winner will go on to compete in Mrs. America.
“I just feel it’s a natural progression (from) where I’ve been and how I see myself. I’m trying to inspire other people to see their own beauty,” Haag said. “Me having the courage to put myself — because I do look so different in many ways — in this arena and this competition will inspire other people to see themselves a little bit differently and to work on defining their own beauty.”
Mrs. Colorado, the bulk of which will take place on Saturday in Denver but with some events on Thursday, comes with all the staples of a traditional pageant. There’s a swimsuit portion, an interview and a gown portion. Ladies participating must be at least 18 years old, legally married and a citizen.
Haag will wear the scars on her skin as proudly as she plans to wear her bikini and two-piece black and silver dress.
“I remember having this vision of me and 30 other women on stage,” Haag said. “Instead of just seeing me as the scarred one, I saw all their scars as well, their broken journeys, the things they’ve gone through that affected them and what they’ve overcome. That made me feel inclusive.”
Haag may have an edge over her competition during the interview process. She is a former pediatric nurse in Greeley and would connect with young people going through traumatic situations. She left the field to become a motivational speaker and now spreads positivity and self love through her business Soul on Fire — Beauty from Ashes.
“Our beauty comes from our character,” Haag said. “It’s a reflection of our character, a reflection of the love that we carry not only for other people, but for ourselves.”
Haag and her husband Mike run Midwestern Steam Clean Carpet & Air Duct Cleaning out of their home. She told her husband she planned to get into Mrs. Windsor by saying, “You’re going to think I’m crazy, but…”
“There’s nothing that she comes to me with and surprises me. That’s a good thing,” Mike Haag said. “I always knew she had it in her. She’s very strong-headed, a very strong person. Her journey’s gotten her to this point where she’s ready to show the world what she’s got.”
Haag’s father Don Burzlaff, heavily scarred from the fire, still lives in DeWitt, Iowa, where the explosion happened. He is in Colorado to cheer on his daughter.
“I hope she reaches her goal but, to me, that’s not the most important thing,” Burzlaff said. “She’s trying and she listened to the lord to do what he’s called her to do.”
Haag has come a long way from that fateful day, her father said.
“When she was growing up I never thought — through the fire, through high school — that she would be brave enough to do something like this,” Burzlaff said. “I’m proud of her for listening to our lord and to have this mission to pass the word with what she’s doing.”
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