Man suffers severe burns after gas explosion near Suffolk airport

In this Jan. 31, 2018 photo, Suffolk police are on the scene at Ervin Architectural Products where officials say a man suffered severe burns in a "flash fire." The man was flown to Sentara Norfolk General Hospital. (Credit: WAVY/Rico Bush.)

SUFFOLK, Va. (WAVY) — A man was flown to the hospital early Wednesday morning after suffering severe burns in a fire at a building near the Suffolk Executive Airport.

Suffolk Fire and Rescue responded to a call for a man on fire, and when they got there they found a worker in critical condition, who is now at Sentara Norfolk General.

Van Horton, who is a temp worker, has been with Ervin Architectural Products for about nine months.

This morning around 7:30, he apparently tried using gasoline to light a heating boiler, which is outside of company standard operating procedures.

State OSHA came down this afternoon to investigate this workplace accident.

According to the company it is believed that Van Horton used gasoline from a gas can to light the heating boiler. Usually there are burning embers from the night before, but apparently Horton used a lighter to get the fire going again. The company believes he then used a gas can to get the fire started quicker.

It appears the fire came back into the gas can and exploded the burning gas onto Horton.

“We heard an explosion. A boom,” said Wayne Bolton, a manager with the company. “We ran out the door and when we got to the door he had run that way, where we could see him out that door…and he was on fire.”

Bolton told us that after he was on fire, “Horton ran from where he was and was coming this way,” as Bolton pointed to a place about 10 yards away.

“When he got here, we could see him out that door…he then dropped right here, and we rolled him, rolled over here, and we had a fire extinguisher…and we sprayed him until the fire was out…clothes were only on the trunk of his body, his arms and legs, the clothes had burned away.”

After the flames were out Bolton says Horton, “wanted to get back up. I told him to lay still. He wanted to get up.  He looked like hell.  He got up and walked around there with me and we sat him in a chair.”

Bolton says, “What type of a guy is Van? He is a great guy and would do anything for you. He can lift anything. He is a body builder. He is a security guy. He works her through the temp service for about nine months. He shows up everymorning. He will personally do whatever you ask him. Sometimes he does more than you ask him. You can count on him. He is here in the morning, and he will stay until the end”

Bolton has been in the workforce 48 years in construction type businesses, “This is the ugliest I have ever seen. I’ve never been involved in a fire where someone is on fire. It is just ugly.”

Ervin Architectural Products provided this statement to WAVY.com:

We are deeply sad for our worker who was injured in today’s accident. Our thoughts are with him and his family. We take the safety of all of our employees very seriously and believe the greatest respect we can show them is to bring them home safely. Details about the accident are still coming in, and we will work very closely with OSHA and others to determine the cause of this terrible accident, and to prevent similar incidents from happening in the future.” ~ Stacey Burke, TrueBlue Companies spokesperson