Fire investigators believe two 4-year-old boys poured gasoline on a plastic jungle gym Saturday so they would go faster down the slide.
However, plastic slides create a tremendous amount of static electricity, which apparently ignited the gas fumes, burning both boys over much of their bodies, Spokane Fire Department investigator Lt. Chris Phillips said.
Brian Ashmore, 4, and another 4-year-old, who has not yet been named, both remained in critical condition Monday at Harborview Medical Center in Seattle.
“They maybe saw somebody pour water on the slide,” Phillips said. “That’s one of our theories, that they poured (gas) on there innocently, trying to make themselves slide faster. Then they slid a couple times on the gasoline.”
The boys were burned in a neighbor’s back yard at 7515 N. Napa Court.
A different fire investigator found gasoline residue on the slide, on the kids’ clothes and inside a flower pot at the base of the slide. The boys may have poured gasoline from a gas can, which was nearby because the lawn had just been mowed, into the flower pot and then poured the gasoline from the flower pot onto the slide, Phillips said.
“We had fuel there but no source of ignition,” Phillips said.
When he got the call, Phillips said, he expected investigators to learn that the boys had been burning up Hot Wheels cars or plastic Army men and somehow splashed gas on themselves.
“The guys and police did a search of the whole area. They couldn’t find any lighters or matches,” Phillips said. “There was only one possible source of ignition and that’s a common source.”
Phillips recalled a case within the last year when a man suffered serious burns at a gas station. The man was filling a plastic gas can in the back of a Nissan pickup that had a plastic bed liner. The man slid the gas can over the bed liner and the resulting static electricity sparked the fire that burned him.
“Static and gas don’t mix, unfortunately,” Phillips said.
Gasoline creates combustible vapors at temperatures as low as 50 degrees below zero. The boys couldn’t have known the danger the gasoline posed on Saturday, with the temperatures in the 60s, Phillips said.
“It’s not their fault,” he said of the boys. “It’s disgustingly tragic. Who wants to try to place the blame on this one? It’s improper storage of the fuel. It’s improper supervision of the kids.”
Phillips said he does not expect charges to be filed in connection with the case.
“Nobody saw them doing it. Nobody saw them pouring the gas,” he said. “We won’t know until we can talk to them because they were the only two who were there.”
Spokane Police Sgt. Joe Peterson said major crimes investigators assisted the fire investigator at the scene, searching for any clues about how the boys burned themselves. He agreed with Phillips that he does not expect a charge to be filed.
Brian Ashmore’s grandmother, Shannon Ward, said in a previous interview that one of the boys was wearing “nylon or polyester” which may have caused static electricity by rubbing on the plastic slide. One boy had burns over 75 percent of his body and the other was burned on more than half of his body, she said.
Ward, who could not be reached Monday, had planned to set up accounts at local branches of Wells Fargo and U.S. Bank for community members who wanted to donate to help with the families’ medical expenses.
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