A severe fire related accident occurred as the new year struck in Freedom, NH. The location was a lakeside private home owned by one of the group, all recent graduates from Holy Cross College. The group was outside celebrating and had a bonfire going on an old grill. It appears that the accident occurred when one of the revelors poured an accelerant, said to be a lantern fuel, onto a smoldering log, intending to restoke the fire. It is believed that gas fumes from the fuel ignited and set fire to the clothing worn by three woman who were huddled around the fire causing personal injuries to several woman present.
Two of the woman were Boston area residents and were critically injured with first, second and third degree burns. The third girl’s injuries were less severe, as she was apparently wrapped with a blanket more quickly following the incident. It was said that the other girls ran back to the larger group still aflame, and only then were wrapped so that the flames could be put out.
The accident brings to mind the severe danger, which fires, and in particular outdoor bonfires present, especially during holiday times, when the consumption of alcohol seems to become a factor in the judgment used by partygoers. The U.S. government has conducted studies, which show that outdoor fires spike during holiday periods, and that the period between midnight and 1:00 a.m. on New Years has a particularly high incidence rate of fires, and fire related accidents, much more so than other times of the winter and the rest of the year. Based on a 2001-2 study conducted by the U.S. Fire Administration, there were an estimated 6,400 fires during the New Year’s period, causing an average of 30 deaths and 93 injuries.
With respect to accident claims associated with such accidents, under normal circumstances, liability would be investigated as it relates to the owner of the home where the accident occurred. The owner assumes certain responsibilities when parties take place on their property, and in particular when dangerous activities, such as bonfires, are permitted. The homeowner must take specific steps to make sure that visitors are protected from foreseeable dangers.
Homeowners insurance provides coverage for the liability of the owner for conduct on the premises, and in certain instances, off the premises. Therefore, a claim will usually involve the company who insures the property, and also possibly the individual who was directly responsible for making the accident occur. In this most recent accident, that would be the family who owned the lakeside property, and the individual who poured the accelerant onto the fire, assuming this person did not live on the premises.
It appears that the accident was being thoroughly investigated by the local sheriff’s office and the results of that investigation will form the basis for the civil claims, which may emerge from this tragic, and seemingly avoidable accident. The message is clear though, that bonfires injure and kill, and don’t necessarily go hand in hand with partying and alcohol consumption, where good judgment is often impaired.