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Debris fire leaves La Vernia man with burns

Debris fire leaves La Vernia man with burns
COURTESY Reuben Garcia was treated with Silvadene cream in May, after receiving burns to his face and hands while starting to burn debris on his property on U.S. 87 in La Vernia.

Rainfall in recent weeks and the fall weather has many folks contemplating bonfires or burning brush, but longtime La Vernia resident Reuben Garcia offers a cautionary tale.

He is truly thankful to be alive and well.

“I want to thank my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ that I am still alive, after what could have been my last day on earth,” he said in May, shortly after receiving treatment for burns to his hands and face.

Reuben was preparing his property on U.S. 87 for sale, and he and some friends were tearing apart a trailer, ready to burn it in a pit where he’s had bonfires in the past. Reuben threw gasoline onto the debris; some of it spilled onto his right hand. He stooped to light the fire, thinking he had the gas can in his right hand, far from where he thought the flames would be.

But he was wrong. As he struck the lighter, flames ignited the gas fumes, shooting up into Reuben’s face and about 5 feet past him.

“The last thing I remember before the intense pain of the flash fire was seeing the flames make their way past me, as if there was a hedge or ring around me where the flames did not catch my clothes on fire,” he said. The fire could have exploded the gas can in his hand, but didn’t.

Seeking relief, he applied ice, ointments, anything he could find, but nothing helped.

Reuben’s wife, Barbara, took him to The Urgent Care Clinic in La Vernia, where he was treated with silver sulfadiazine, commonly called Silvadene.

“Thank God. Relief!” he said.

Silvadene acts to prevent bacterial infection of open wounds, such as burns.

Reuben’s burned and sore face healed fairly quickly, despite initial appearances.

La Vernia Volunteer Fire Department Chief Jason Scheel urges people to use care and employ safety precautions when burning brush or other debris.

“Gasoline should never be used!” Scheel said, adding that it is extremely explosive. When applied to a brush pile, the vapors are trapped in the void space; when these meet with an ignition source, a violent reaction occurs.

Reuben’s injuries could have been much worse, according to the fire chief.

“Burns to the body can cause serious injury and even death,” Scheel said. “é When a flash fire occurs, and a person inhales the superheated air, it burns the interlining of the airway, and could go all the way down to the lungs. Once this happens, the person’s condition becomes critical.”

Reuben remains grateful for each day since the fire. God spared him, he believes.

“Every morning after I pray and thank God for another day, I ask God’s covering over my family, friends, loved ones, and even those that come against me in the physical and the spiritual,” he said.

Each day, he draws a new scripture from a box on his desk, and ponders it. That day, the scripture was Psalm 91:3-5 (KJV): “é surely he shall deliver thee from the snare of the fowler, and from the noisome pestilence. He shall cover thee with his feathers, and under his wings shalt thou trust: his truth shall be thy shield and buckler. Thou shalt not be afraid for the terror by night; nor for the arrow that flieth by day é”

“Now, I hope you understand why I was not killed,” Reuben said. “God is faithful to his word. So you see, it does pay to pray for God to have his precious blood over us, His Holy Spirit in us, and His angels on assignment to protect us.

“Psalm 91:11 says, ’for he shall give his angels charge over thee, to keep thee in all thy ways.’

“I don’t praise angels, Reuben said. “But I thank God he does allow them to watch over us.”

He and his wife have since moved to Rockport, where Reuben enjoys fishing in the Gulf waters and fishing for souls on land.

Tips for safe debris burning

La Vernia Volunteer Fire Department Chief Jason Scheel offers these tips for safe burning of debris or brush.

¢Comply with local regulations. Contact your local fire department in advance to confirm that burning is allowed and to find out whether a permit is required to burn debris.

¢Check the weather forecast. Weather fluctuations, such as sudden gusts of wind, could make debris burning spark a wildfire. Call your local fire department the day you plan to burn debris to finalize that the weather is safe enough to burn.

¢Choose a safe burning site. A safe site will be far away from power lines, overhanging limbs, buildings, automobiles, and equipment. Vertical clearance should be at least three times the height of the pile, as heat from the fire extends far past the actual flames that you see. Horizontal clearance should be twice the height of the debris pile.

¢Prepare the site correctly. The ground around the burn site should be surrounded by gravel or mineral soil (dirt) for at least 10 feet in all directions. Keep the surrounding area watered down during the burn.

¢If using a burn barrel, make sure it is equipped with the proper features. All-metal, properly ventilated with each vent backed by a metal screen, and a metal top screen with mesh size of 1/4-inch or finer to keep sparks from escaping.

¢Remain with your fire. Stay with your fire until it is completely out. To ensure the fire has been completely extinguished, drown the fire with water, turn over the ashes with a shovel, and drown it again. Repeat several times. Check the burn area regularly for several days and up to several weeks, especially if the weather is warm, dry, and windy.

¢Keep it legal. It is illegal to burn plastic, tires, and most other waste products not from a tree or shrub.

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