Burned West Dunbartonshire teenager warns of Bonfire danger

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As Bonfire Night approaches Ross Clark hopes other young people will listen to the warnings and stay safe.

Ross Clark Clydebank (WDC)

A teenager left scarred for life after an accident on bonfire night is warning other young people to be aware of the dangers of fire.

Ross Clark was just 10 when he suffered extensive burns after attempting to use petrol to set a bonfire alight.

The liquid, which had splashed onto Ross' hand, ignited and the flames engulfed his hand, arm and face.

Ross, now 14, and his mum Lynne are speaking out about the accident in the run up to Guy Fawkes Night to warn other young people to steer clear of accelerants and bonfires.

The youngster had been out playing with pals on the afternoon of 5 November, 2010. The group had built a bonfire in their local park in Faifley but due to heavy rain decided to use petrol and a lighter to start the fire.

Ross, who was a pupil at St Joseph's Primary at the time, was burned when the petrol fumes ignited and set his jacket alight. His life was saved when he adopted the stop, drop and roll manoeuvre he had learned at school days earlier.

He said: "When I saw the flame I just dropped down and rolled myself in the grass. I asked my pal if I was okay and he thought I was but I could feel the burning so I ran to my gran's for help."

Mum Lynne added: "When my mum saw Ross the skin had started to peel from his hand and face. She called for an ambulance and Ross was rushed to Yorkhill Hospital.

"I was at work when I got a call to say Ross had burned his hand. Ross' dad picked me up at work and it was only when we got to Yorkhill we realised how bad it was. They had put up screen to stop people in the waiting rooms seeing him as they brought him in.

"I could see the skin was peeling off his face and it was swollen to twice its normal size. I just panicked and completely broke down. Within two hours he was in intensive care."

Ross, who can remember very little about the accident, was put into an induced coma for five days and spent a week in intensive care followed by a further four weeks in hospital.

Lynne said: "When the bandages came off his whole face and hand were blistered.

"He had skin grafts from his leg onto his face and hand. He had to wear pressure garments on his face for months afterwards.  Even after he got out of hospital we were up there a lot.

"From somewhere we got the strength to get through it.

"Ross doesn't really talk about it. There was a storyline a couple of months ago in Eastenders where one of the main characters was burned in a fire. Ross couldn't watch it. I think he realised what we went through."

West Dunbartonshire Fireworks Safety Group, which includes the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service (SFRS), West Dunbartonshire Council and Police Scotland, has launched a campaign to reduce the number of injuries from fireworks and bonfires.

Area Manager Paul Connelly, the SFRS local senior officer, said: "Every year someone in our communities is burned by a bonfire or firework.

"Petrol is deadly and the hazard is not only in the liquid but also in the vapour which escapes and clings to clothes and skin. It's invisible to the eye but as soon as a naked flame comes into contact, the vapour alights.

“Firefighters have seen too many incidents like Ross’s, where someone has suffered horrific injuries as a result of things going wrong with fireworks or illegal bonfires.

“This is one of our busiest times of year and illegally built bonfires also tie-up firefighters when they could be needed at a real emergency.

“We would discourage members of the public from having a garden or street bonfire and ask them instead to join Scotland’s fight against fire and attend an organised display. These are not only far more spectacular than DIY displays or unofficial events, they’re also far safer.”

West Dunbartonshire Council's two displays will take place at Dalmuir Park in Clydebank on Tuesday 4 November and Levengrove Park in Dumbarton on Wednesday 5 November. The entertainment begins at 7pm and both displays start at 7.30pm.

Councillor Lawrence O'Neill, the council's political liaison with the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service, said: "We are fortunate that Ross is with us today to tell his story and warn other young people of the dangers as all too often people lose their lives as a result of incidents like this.

"We want people to enjoy November 5 and keep themselves safe by going to organised displays."

Ross, now a pupil at St Peter the Apostle High School, is well on the road to recovery and earlier this year took up boxing. He has also received support from the Scottish Burned Children's Club.

His advice for youngsters thinking of staging their own bonfire this year is: "Don't do it. Stick to organised displays."

Lynne added: "That one moment was completely life changing for all of us. It's been a long road but he's come a long way. I'm really proud of him."

West Dunbartonshire is taking a zero tolerance approach to illegal bonfires and firework sales, with teams from the council and police monitoring the area to clamp down on any fires started on public land and any shops selling fireworks to underage residents.

A hit list of areas in Alexandria, Dumbarton and Clydebank where bonfires have been built in the past are being monitored by West Dunbartonshire Council's Public Reassurance Team  to ensure there is no repeat.

The target areas include streets in Haldane, Bonhill, Bellsmyre, Brucehill, Faifley and Dalmuir.

Anyone with concerns regarding bonfires or bonfire materials can report this to the Council by calling 01389 772059 during the day or 0800 197 1004 Out of Hours.