Fire is an incredibly unpredictable force of nature and not something to be taken lightly.

~any sane human being

Don’t EVER use gasoline (or kerosene or diesel) in an effort to burn plants, piles of brush or anything else for that matter outside your house.

~Southern advice to folks in other regions

In a recent BBC Future article, journalist David Robson explored the possibility that humanity may have reached “peak intelligence” and that “human intellectual potential may actually be declining.” According to researchers, along with our rise in manipulating more complex forms of technology, there’s been a fall in critical thinking skills. As if the American political scene wasn’t evidence enough of this phenomenon, I personally experienced such a lapse in common sense while visiting the USA in April.

Convenience vs environmental and personal safety

America’s DIY culture, along with large, intensely landscaped tracts of suburban and rural land, have opened the door to many an accident just waiting to happen. When facing a battle with tough, razor sharp foliage, many gardeners (especially in the American South) forgo the scraped arms and burn back some plants in the fall or early spring. While burning dead plants is an often faster, labor-saving method of disposal when compared to cutting and hauling brush away, the health and environmental risks far outweigh any possible benefits. Trust me. I unwittingly did the research for you on this one.

when common sense takes a vacation

So it was that on April 22 while visiting my Sisters (and yes, they are a proper noun) in North Carolina, I used gasoline in an effort to set alight a large pampas grass plant. The still-green foliage didn’t want to burn, so I did the ‘logical’ (NOT!) thing and added more gas while being too close to the plant. An unseen spark lay smoldering within the grassy mound. Instantaneously, a flaming whoosh like dragon’s breath flashed from the bottom of the plant and onto my pants.

This plant won the battle of man against nature. Please be aware that plants have their own specific set of built-in survival mechanisms.

In another stroke of ‘what was I thinking’, I was wearing a pair of loose-fitting poly/cotton sweat pants, not practical work clothing that would have provided some degree of protection. So what happened next?

The fight or flight response

Any of you who have experienced intense ‘fight or flight’ situations know that your brain and other body systems react instinctively in such life or death situations. As the flames spread to and climbed up the right leg of my pants, I fled away from the flames emanating from the bush. In the distance, I heard a voice saying “drop and roll,” a voice which I heeded. Thank you Sister!

I found myself on the ground realizing that simply rolling was not going to put out the flames. It was clear to me that the fabric content of my pants made them highly flammable. Now, here, lying on the grass in a neighbor’s back yard, my mind told me the only thing to do was get them off my body ASAP.  To accomplish this, my tennis shoes–which I’d laced quite securely that day (don’t want any falls now, do we?)–had to come off first.

Again, reacting on instinct, I quickly pushed the pants down using my left foot/shoe and right hand until they were against my right shoe. I then began kicking furiously with my left foot/shoe until the right shoe and flaming pants were away from my body.

I jumped up (yes, like a gymnast completing an Olympic routine), glanced at the melted flesh on my right leg, and headed toward the house–prancing in my untouched underwear–while the neighbor and my Sister rushed toward me in an effort to help. A powerful rush of adrenaline had assumed control of all bodily functions as I set my sights on getting medical care.

Let me repeat this again for the foolhardy or those who have a bit of pyromania lurking within: Gasoline is–DUH!–very unstable when combined with a spark or flame and completely unpredictable!

Turn away if you must, but I felt a picture was necessary as a warning to anyone else foolish enough to mix gasoline and flame. This was my right leg after 3 weeks of healing. My ankle–where the most serious burns occurred–was still undergoing treatment.

Two months of recuperation and contemplation followed. I will spare you the details of preventing burn infection and dealing with the excruciating pain as skin and nerve cells have continued to restore themselves. Just as my life was changed by two major car accidents when I was in my 20s, this has been yet another experience that will forever color the person I’m still becoming. To put it mildly, my empathy for burn victims has certainly been heightened.

Final thoughts

Almost three months have passed since the accident and I was well enough to return to Colombia last week. I’m eternally grateful for the excellent care my two wonderful Sisters gave their very independent brother. Most of all, I realize how VERY lucky I am that I wasn’t burned more seriously.

I certainly don’t feel like a victim. Instead, I feel incredibly fortunate to have done something very stupid and survived mostly intact.

peace~henry

 

 

 

 

Posted by Henry Lewis

Unconventional artist, writer, videographer and teacher. Personal Quote: It isn't easy being me ;-)

48 Comments

  1. Being a fan of David Bowie (who sang You can’t put out fire with gasoline), I always did avoid the mixture of gasoline and fire.

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    1. Thankfully, you’re brighter than I am Christopher. I have always aired on the side of tempting fate, for better or worse.

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  2. Playing with fire. So that’s what you’ve been up to! You’re indeed fortunate that you weren’t burned more severely. Happy to know that you’re on your way to full recovery.

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    1. Thanks for your good wishes Rosaliene! I battled with the idea of writing about this at all (a trivial experience compared to the horrors so many people face on a daily basis), but it seems I had to rid myself of these words as a form of therapy.

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      1. A near-death experience is not trivial, Henry.

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  3. I cannot even begin to imagine the amount of pain you have been dealing with. I’m so relieved that you are in the homestretch of your healing process, and that you are finally back home in Colombia. Very much looking forward to seeing you soon.

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    1. At least a few of those Robert. Thanks for reading!

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  4. OMG! I hope you’re better SOON.

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    1. Thank you for the kind wishes! The healing is going well. Luckily, I was healthy and fit when the accident happened which has made a big difference in the speed of the healing process.

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      1. Still, it’s a horrible thing to be burned. I’ve had some experience with that and it’s no fun at all.

        Liked by 1 person

  5. THIS IS SO WELL WRITTEN – LIKE THE INTRO FROM BBC – THOUGHT PROVOKING MAN’S INTELLECTUAL DECLINE / COLLECTIVELY AMERICAN POLITICAL SCENE.

    BUT ON A PERSONAL NOTE – NEVER DURING THAT TIME DID I THINK WE WOULD EVER BE ABLE TO FIND HUMOR IN THIS- BUT DID LAUGH JUST NOW IN SOME OF YOUR DESCRIPTIONS.

    FINALLY, AM SOOO ETERNALLY GRATEFUL FOR YOUR PERSERVERANCE AND PATIENCE AND FORTITUDE AND THE CARE OF HEALTH/BURN PROFESSIONALS AT BAPTIST.

    AND LASTLY, BUT MOST OF ALL, THE GOOD LORD AND CONCERN OF OTHERS AND THE MANY PRAYERS.

    AND, IN ALL HONESTY WE ALL DO THINGS CARELESSLY SOMETIMES.

    THANKFUL – JO

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    1. And all my love and gratitude to both my AMAZING Sisters!

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  6. Oh my, that does look painful. I’m glad you got it stopped where you did.

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    1. For sure Jim. I was lucky as I said!

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  7. Two things from this: let’s always be grateful it was as bad as it was and not as it could have been. And let’s try to remember the experience so that we don’t go through it again. I’m afraid this is not as obvious as you might have thought, and I’m talking from personal experience.
    Thank you Henry for sharing this. A good reminder.

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    1. Thanks for making that point Marios. I spent a great deal of time mired in self-loathing for my stupidity.

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  8. Oh Henry, I am so sorry! So glad you can keep your sense of humor and your gratitude for your sisters and your recovery. I hope you are back to the healthier, safer types of adventure and inquiry soon.
    Kim

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    1. I’m afraid there were weeks when my sense of humor was absent, but in the end, laughing at our human foibles is the best medicine of all. Thanks for your kind thoughts!

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  9. Thankfully you have recovered from an awful accident. What a frightening experience! Wishing you a good recovery as you progress through the year. Lesley

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      1. As surely as it’s possible to do it, someone will.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. So true Ellen! We give ourselves far more credit as ‘reasoning beings’ than we deserve.

        Liked by 1 person

  10. Oh my god. I’m glad you’re okay.

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    1. Thank you Ellen! There are SO many jokes I could make about this experience, but honestly, I wrote this post to warn others who might be clueless enough to try something like this.

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  11. So Sorry..hope you are healing well now.

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    1. Much better cousin, but the visit to NC was quite different this year. Love to you!

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  12. Thank you for the warning, sorry to see the extent of the burns! I thought you had been awfully quiet of late. Take care, Rebecca

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    1. Thanks Rebecca! Mentally I was taken out of action for quite a while. It was as if I had to focus all my brain power on healing. I’m thrilled to be able to open my mind once again.

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      1. The body is amazing in how it guides us to slow down so we may heal. Glad you had family around to support you. Look forward to your renewed intellectual pursuits as you have the timed and energy. -Rebecca

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      2. Yeah, we’ll see how that goes. 😉

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  13. Dear Henry, So sorry to hear about your troubles. When I read it, I was perplexed that someone as intelligent, articulate and accomplished as yourself could do something so damn stupid. However, as you pointed out, you certainy do not have a monopoly on smart, sane people doing things that, upon reflection, they have regretted.
    Now this particular act of stupidty is one which I would not have been guilty of simply because after our ways parted in Oman, I worked for Saudi Aramco, the largest oil company in the world. I’ve sat through more safety meetings than I can count, and I still have two flame resistant shirts (Nomex) that I was issued. Throwing gasoline on embers while wearing poly/cotton sweats was not specifically covered, but it would certainly have been in the “not recommended” category.
    So please, then next time you’re planning on burning something, maybe doing a little welding, or entering an enclosed space, please email me first. We’ll discuss basic safety procedures such as making a plan of work, appropriate safety clothing, having a safety person with a fire extinguisher standing by, proximity of first aid, and so on.
    Glad to hear you’re on the mend. Once you’re back on your feet, please don’t celebrate by visiting the Grand Canyon and leaning over the edge to get that perfect selfie…

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    1. Hi Mark,

      Thanks for the belated advice. 🙂 As I said in my post, I’ll plead Southern ignorance on this one since so many people with seemingly good common sense pull the same stunts in the area where I grew up and where my Sisters still live. Consciously, I certainly knew better, but make no mistake, this stunt will not be repeated by me or my Sisters. Unsurprisingly, I have a heightened fear of fire after this incident.

      Hope you and the family are well. Where are you hanging your hat these days?

      Cheers,
      Henry

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  14. Sorry to hear about your defeat by nature, Henry. Glad you’re recovering. Cheers.

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    1. Thanks Kader. Lesson learned!

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  15. Good grief!!
    Good thing you stayed on the positive side of the experience.
    I can’t believe you did something so stupid. You seem so smart. 😉
    Anyway, I’m so smart, that my stupid is even more stupid.
    Also, my “follows” vanish from some blogs from time to time. So If I follow you over and over, that’s why. It’s a WP thing.

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    1. Thank you Resa! We humans all have our ‘stupid’ moments. Luckily, fate was kind to me in this instance.

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  16. My god Henry, I can only imagine the amount of mental strength needed to get through something like this!

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    1. One does what they must when they have no other choice. Sadly, though, I did lose my sense of humor during the worst weeks. Thanks for your thoughts.

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  17. Mark Shargool July 15, 2019 at 3:39 am

    Hi again Henry, we’re in Canada now, a suburb of Vancouver.

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    1. Nice to know you’re in a good place.

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  18. Yikes! You’ve scared me away from any gasoline fueled antics in the garden.

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    1. Thanks for saying that Ken. Those were my intentions.

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  19. You kept your head in an emergency. It could’ve been much worse. Way to be.

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    1. Indeed, it could have been Mike. I feel very grateful!

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    1. Thanks! I’m able to walk and look for birds again so I’m doing okay. 🙂

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