A Columbus woman died Aug. 15 while on vacation in northern Montana when the SUV she was riding in sparked a raging grassland fire that engulfed the vehicle.

Pauline H. Siegel, 58, of northwest Columbus was a retired Worthington Schools teacher. She taught at Worthington Estates Elementary School through the 2015-16 school year, officially retiring Sept. 30.

"Pauline was a beloved Worthington educator who dedicated her life to working with students at Worthington Estates Elementary," said Superintendent Trent Bowers. "We are saddened by her loss and our thoughts are with her family."

Siegel had been a passenger in an SUV on a grass-covered road in Gildford, Montana. The vehicle ignited a series of grassland fires that spread to the SUV, according to the Havre Daily News in Havre, Montana. Havre is about 30 miles east of Gildford and about 45 miles south of the Canadian border.

She managed to get out of the SUV but was unable to escape the grass fire as she became overcome and died at the scene, according to a release from the Hill County Sheriff's Office.

Three other people who were in the SUV managed to escape. One of the three tried to help Siegel and was treated for injuries at Northern Montana Hospital, according to the sheriff's office.

The fire ultimately burned more than 1,000 acres of grassy pasture land, Shawn Rismon of the Wildhorse Rural Fire Department told the Havre newspaper. Wildfires in grasslands have been plaguing Montana due to very dry conditions there this time of year.

Her family declined to comment last week.

Siegel's life was characterized by how she overcame obstacles.

For more than two decades, Siegel had to battle transverse myelitis, a rare neurological disorder caused by inflammation of the spinal cord, that hampered her mobility below the waist, as chronicled by a ThisWeek story from 2012.

She spent most of her time then in a wheelchair but could walk with the help of canes.

But she never let it stop her.

Her service dog, a black lab-retriever mix dog named Kazu, helped her with her tasks at school and at home. The dog, whom she called "the Amazing Kazu," mastered more than 50 basic commands to help her.

Siegel also was active with the Traverse Myelitis Association.

She helped to promote the Reading for Rachel program in Worthington Schools on behalf of girl who was stricken with the same disorder in 1999 at the age of 6 1/2 months.

ThisWeek staff writer Pamela Willis contributed to this story.

jwoods@dispatch.com

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