Health Team

Student burned in Franklin Street bonfire

Posted April 8, 2009
Updated April 9, 2009

The basketball fans who celebrated in the streets of Chapel Hill this past weekend adhered to the common practice of setting fires. Some people got too close, and a joyous moment ended with a visit to the North Carolina Jaycee Burn Center.

Giddy fans may feel invincible – like the flames of a bonfire can't touch them.

“The problem is, there's no such thing as a small bonfire, and there's no such thing as a minor burn injury,” said Dr. Bruce Cairns, is a surgeon in the burn center at UNC Hospitals

Cairns is a Tar Heel fan, but his excitement over the Final Four was tempered by an expectation that he would treat students for burn injuries after the fires went out.

Andrew Madlon, a freshman at the University of North Carolina, found himself crowd surfing on Franklin Street after the Tar Heels’ semifinal victory Saturday over Villanova.

“I was sort of up there for five or 10 seconds, and the crowd just ran out and I got dropped into the bonfire,” he recalled.

Madlon’s right forearm landed on the hot coals. “I actually didn't think it was that bad at first,” he said.

He had second-degree burns. Dirt from the coals lodged in his skin, leading to an infection that required surgery and a type of biological Band-Aid made from pig skin.

Cairns said Madlon’s reaction is a common one. “They say, ‘Well I didn't know it could be so bad … it didn't hurt so much in the beginning.’”

Cairns said the burn center treated eight fans for Final Four revelry-related burns. More could be injured and, like Madlon, not initially realize the severity of their burns. Many burn victims wait to seek care until they have an infection, Cairns said.

The hospital works with the university and the town of Chapel Hill to try to discourage bonfires during post-game celebrations. Cairns said he worries that media coverage and images of bonfires – without comment about the dangers – only help fuel the dangerous tradition making more burns likely.

Madlon said he also worries that student habits will be hard to break. “When you get thousands of people out into that small of an area and you have people jumping over them, you have to expect something's going to go wrong,” he said.

Madlon was released from the burn center Wednesday, but he faces follow-up care for a few weeks to make sure he won't need a skin graft.


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  • rushbot Apr 10, 2009

    Uncle Darwin says time for this brainiac to get out of the (gene) pool.

  • camphost Apr 10, 2009

    Well DUH! If you play with fire, you're going to get burned!

  • independent_thinker Apr 10, 2009

    holymoly guacamole - Mine was also a metaphorical comparison. BTW, if the last 8 years under Bush/Cheney weren't irresponsible, what were they?

  • davido Apr 9, 2009

    Alcohol + fire! What could possibly go wrong?

  • justwondering2 Apr 9, 2009

    Guess he really was fired up for the heels lol....

  • Foxtrot Delta Tango Apr 9, 2009

    Fire bad!

    "Actually he wasn't drunk and other people just grabbed him and picked him up without his permission."

    Oh yeah, of course.

  • atotha2nd Apr 9, 2009

    Actually he wasn't drunk and other people just grabbed him and picked him up without his permission. But of course people on here will take the 'news' and run with it.

  • ncguy Apr 9, 2009

    Independent thinker-

    You Had Bill Clinton- who does not know the meaning of Seks and purjured himself before the whole nation.
    And good ole Ted who Killed someone driving drunk.

  • PlanetX Apr 9, 2009

    Independent - I don't think G-man was referring to Obama himself - I think (if I read it right) that he was referring to the liberal/irresponsible attitude that makes up a large part of our youth today. Most of them voted democrat...has nothing to do with Obama personally.

  • PlanetX Apr 9, 2009

    Ya can't fix stupid....

    Seriously, I never did understand why winning the big one required folks to go out and destroy property and set things (including themselves, apparently) on fire...? Why can't they just drink a bunch if they must, slap each other on the backs, whoop and holler, and then go the heck home?