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Backyard explosion injures child in Coraopolis

| Monday, Nov. 26, 2012, 4:36 p.m.

Larry Jones remained haunted hours later by the screams and sight of a boy running through the backyard of a home in Coraopolis, clawing away at his burning shirt with the flames licking up the legs of his pants.

The boy — Payton Brown, 12, a sixth-grader at Cornell Elementary School — was one of three boys injured Monday afternoon when they poured a flammable liquid from a gasoline container onto a small fire in a commercial burn pit in the rear of an apartment in the 800 block of Fifth Avenue.

“I heard a loud explosion and looked up and saw the smoke,” said Jones, an inspector with Columbia Gas of Pennsylvania who was working with a group of natural gas laborers on Oak Way, about 100 feet away.

“I saw the flames and the kid running around on fire. He was burning, his clothes were burning,” said Jones who, along with the workers from Team Fishel in Beaver Falls, dashed toward the screaming boy.

“He got his shirt off, and his pants were still on fire,” Jones said. “One of the other kids helped pull his shirt off. Another was patting him down.

“I got to him, took my jacket off, got him on the ground and smothered the flames. I saw other kids laying on the ground. I don't know the extent of their injuries. He said he didn't know what happened (except) there were a lot of people screaming, ‘Oh, my God! Your clothes are on fire!'

“He was scared. He thought his pants were still on fire, but I assured him the fire was out. I tried to keep him calm.”

Brown's brother, Donovan Brown, 16, was inside when he heard the explosion.

“I heard my little brother screaming. He was on fire from head to toe,” Brown said.

He tried to put out the flames with his hands, and a friend, Christopher Dallas, helped pull Payton's shirt off.

Georgette Brown, Payton's mother, said doctors at UPMC Mercy, Uptown, told her that her son is going to live but that he has a long road to recovery.

“He's in a drug-induced coma in critical condition,” she said.

Allegheny County's chief deputy fire marshal, Donald A. Brucker, said the other two boys were taken to the same hospital, one with burns to his hands. The other was released upon being treated for singed hair and face, he said.

Brucker said the three boys and a companion were burning a log, branches and leaves when they decided the fire needed “something “ to make it burn faster.

Jones, 56, said one of the Team Fishel members grabbed a foam fire extinguisher and put out the small inferno in the backyard.

The gasoline container exploded with such force at 2:45 p.m. that workers said it shook the nearby Uni-Mart store at the corner of Fifth Avenue and Main Street.

“I heard the explosion. You could feel it in here,” said an employee, Kayla Brawdy, 24. “A woman came running in screaming, ‘Call 911! Call 911!' ”

Michael Hasch is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7820 or m hasch@tribweb.com.

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