Alex Brown remembers seeing fire covering his body.
But the 4-year-old Spokane boy won’t say much more than that about a backyard accident that landed him and his 4-year-old friend, Brian Ashmore, in Seattle’s Harborview Medical Center with burns over more than half their bodies.
“If you ask him, he acts like he doesn’t know what you’re talking about,” Alex’s mother, Tara Brown, said. She thinks it’s his way of coping with the June 4 incident.
The friends were playing on a plastic slide in the yard of one of Brian’s neighbors in north Spokane. Fire investigators believe the boys poured gasoline from a nearby jug onto the slide to make it faster. Static electricity created by the slide apparently ignited the gas fumes.
“Try to keep flame-retardant clothes for your kids and make sure you’re always watching, because obviously the weirdest things can set something like this off,” said Brown, 18. “It’s the last thing I ever expected.”
Both Alex and Brian have undergone surgery to remove their burns, which were “very, very deep,” said Dr. David Heimbach. The burns mostly covered their chests, buttocks, legs, arms, backs and sides. Their faces and hands weren’t burned.
The missing skin was replaced with a layer of artificial skin, which closes up the wounds. Heimbach will remove healthy skin from their feet, scalp and abdomens and attach it to the artificial layer.
Brian has had to undergo four other operations after complications occurred in his intestinal tract. He is still in critical condition and is using a breathing tube, but can communicate with his mother, Theresa Ashmore, by squeezing her hand, Heimbach said.
Alex has been upgraded to serious condition.
Heimbach expects both boys to need 10 more surgeries each.
The doctor said he has heard of static electricity sparking a fire, but has never treated victims of such an accident. It most often happens at gas stations when customers create static by sliding across the seat of a car, he said.
The danger of static electricity was raised six years ago in Bellingham, when gas from a pipeline leaked and created a fireball that ripped through a city park, killing two boys and a young man. One boy was fly-fishing and authorities theorized that static from his fly line ignited the fumes, among other possibilities.
Heimbach treated those boys, too, but said they were burned from head to toe.
“There was no hope” in the Bellingham case, he said. “These little guys are going to survive.”
Heimbach predicts the Spokane boys will be in the hospital for two more months.
“They’ll be playing in their sandbox in three months, but to be normal kids, playing soccer, that’s going to be a year,” he said.
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