Brush blaze went awry, RCMP says
When Paul Furey of Chapel’s Cove changed his mind about backyard work and headed out the front door to get something from his trunk, he spotted his elderly neighbour on fire.
Furey said he’s used to seeing his neighbour tinkering around in the yard, cleaning up — he’s one of those guys who’s known in the community for always working at something.
But there was something about the way he was staggering Tuesday afternoon, and then Furey saw the flames and ran the equivalent of a block and half down his driveway and across to the man’s meadow.
Furey said he tried patting the fire out with gloves he’d grabbed from his car, and then tried smothering the flames with the man’s jacket, but it was nylon and caught fire.
He realized the overalls the man had been wearing were almost disintegrated from the flames, and his underclothes were burning. Furey tore the clothes off him.
Every time he tried beating the fire from the man’s cloth workboots, they reignited.
Furey ran looking for a blanket and then grabbed a seat cushion from the man’s truck to smother the flames.
“Then I got him and helped him to his truck. He sat there and I ran and got help,” Furey told The Telegram Wednesday.
“It was pretty horrific to see someone fully engulfed in flames.”
The Telegram is withholding the man’s name to protect his privacy.
Furey said he then summoned his wife, who is studying to be a paramedic, and firefighters and police were called.
When the man saw Furey running toward him, he exclaimed, “Thank God you are here! Help me get my boots and clothes off,” Furey recalled.
He said the man was conscious the entire time.
“It’s unbelievable how good he was for how bad he was burned,” said Furey.
Before help arrived, the brush fire spread and Furey ran to knock on doors to warn neighbours. He grabbed a large leaf rake from someone’s yard and began beating the fire out and had it mostly knocked down by the time the community fire department arrived, he said.
Furey said his neighbour was kept in hospital, and he was worried about him. The man had come to Furey’s earlier on the day of the fire and chatted with him for about an hour.
“My God, the man must be in so much pain,” he said.
“I keep going over in my head: did I do the right stuff, could I have done anything different? A lot of his clothes were burned by the time I got there.”
Furey was treated for smoke inhalation at the hospital, and had a sore throat and symptoms that felt like the flu on Wednesday.
The man’s meadow wasn’t visible to anyone else, as the properties in the community are at least an acre each, Furey said.
“If I had to walk behind my house instead of in front of my house, there was no helping him,” he said.
Cpl. Jolene Garland of the RCMP’s N.L. media relations said a 911 call was received at 1:25 p.m. Tuesday from a neighbour saying a man was on fire and badly burned.
Garland said the man sustained severe burns to his lower extremities and was conscious when taken by paramedics to hospital. At the time, the injuries were considered not to be life-threatening.
The man was cleaning up his property, according to the police, and was burning trees and brush. He put gas on the fire and some of it splashed onto his clothing, which then caught fire.
It’s common for people to burn brush and debris in the spring, but unusual for a mishap of this magnitude to occur.
But it does happen, Garland said.
“Always be careful around accelerants,” she added.