November 13, 2012

Augusta man injured in weekend fire remains in critical condition

Michael O'Leary, 38, was badly burned on Saturday, after using an accelerant to ignite wood stove

By Craig Crosby
Staff Writer

AUGUSTA -- A city man who suffered serious burns while lighting his wood stove over the weekend remained in critical condition Tuesday at a Portland hospital.

click image to enlarge

The scene of a Saturday morning fire that damaged a home at 816 Civic Center Drive in Augusta. Two people were injured and a dog was killed in the blaze, according to Augusta Fire Department Battalion Chief Dave Groder.

Staff photo by Susan M. Cover

Michael O'Leary, 38, is being treated at Maine Medical Center for burns he suffered Saturday when he used a flammable liquid to light the stove inside the porch of his home at 816 Civic Center Drive.

O'Leary's wife, Amanda O'Leary, 36, was treated for smoke inhalation at MaineGeneral Medical Center in Augusta and released. The family's dog was killed in the fire.

Only Michael O'Leary knows the specifics of how he tried the light the fire, but investigators so far have not been able to talk to him because of his condition. Sgt. Kenneth Grimes of the State Fire Marshal's Office said investigators plan to postpone the interview until O'Leary is released from the hospital.

"Where everything points to it being an accident, there's nothing critical on our part for us to get an immediate interview with him," said Grimes. "We want him to concentrate on recovering. We'll catch up with him later."

The fire, reported about 9 a.m. Saturday, scorched the ranch-style home and caused about $25,000 in damages, according Grimes.

Investigators said that O'Leary was using gasoline to light the stove, but family friend Stephen Stetson said Amanda O'Leary told him kerosene was used.

"One is slightly less dangerous than another," Stetson said. "It's still a horrible thing no matter how you look at it."

Stetson said family members have asked him not to talk publicly about Michael O'Leary's condition.

Grimes said evidence suggests that O'Leary was using gasoline instead of the less volatile kerosene. Amanda O'Leary, who was not in the room when her husband lit the stove, told investigators her husband has used both previously.

Grimes said investigators believe O'Leary's clothes were ignited by flashback caused by the gasoline, but he said it is also possible kerosene spilled onto O'Leary's pant leg and it was ignited by a flame.

What investigators know for sure, Grimes said, is that O'Leary was using an ignitable liquid.

"We don't know specifically what it was," he said. "The most probable scenario, based on the information we have, is gasoline would have been used."

A flashback from gasoline also may have ignited combustible material near the stove, though Grimes said it more likely the fire spread from O'Leary's clothes as he rolled on the floor to smother the flames.

Grimes stressed that kerosene, gasoline or any other flammable liquid should not be used to light a wood stove. He said only paper or kindling should be used to ignite larger pieces of wood.

"I understand the time it takes to do that," he said. "Some people feel they don't have the time, but it's the only safe way to go about it."

Craig Crosby -- 621-5642

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