Local News

Photographer prepared for long recovery after explosion

Posted January 6, 2011

— A photographer injured in a Monday night explosion at her Fayetteville home that critically injured her husband said Thursday that they are both ready for a long, slow road to recovery.

Cindy Burnham said she was brushing her teeth and preparing for bed when her husband, former WRAL News photographer Rick Allen, pulled into the garage after attending a Carolina Hurricanes game.

"All of the sudden, boom, and the whole wall shattered," Burnham said. "It knocked me back about 3 or 4 feet."

Authorities said Allen, a renowned underwater photographer for television networks like the National Geographic Channel and the Discovery Channel, accidentally knocked over a scuba tank in his garage, sparking an explosion.

Burnham's face was cut by flying glass, and blood was streaming down her face. She said she heard Allen calling out to her from the garage.

"I could see a silhouette of him in the garage on fire," she said.

She tried to extinguish the fire, and a neighbor ran over to help.

Burnham, 53, said she thought of the numerous times she had covered Fort Bragg troops as a photographer with The Fayetteville Observer.

"All those years of training and being with professionals about, you know, you can't panic," she said. "You've got to do things, and when things happen, these elements need to follow through, and that's what we did."

Allen, 47, is now in the North Carolina Jaycee Burn Center at UNC Hospitals in Chapel Hill. He has burns on 20 percent of his body, and his left forearm had to be amputated.

Cindy Burnham Wife thankful for support after explosion injured husband

Yet, he remains in good spirits, his wife said.

"He's strong. The guy is definitely strong," she said. "He's hanging in there, and he's doing good."

Dr. Bruce Cairns of the Jaycee Burn Center said Allen has a tremendous will and is very resilient.

"Frankly, he's doing most of the work himself," Cairns said. "Having that resilience and experience and all these wonderful reasons to carry on and get your life back, all of those motivate people to get better."

Allen still faces weeks or months of hospitalizations, including several surgeries. Burnham said the couple is ready for the lengthy recovery period.

"I always notice the strong ones who survive are the ones who keep it together and basically keep some kind of humor to it," she said.

Burnham said family and friends are already lending support, including trying to build an underwater video camera that Allen will be able to use with one hand after he heals.

"I told him that (Wednesday), and you could tell he was smiling with his eyes and doing the OK sign that he understands it," she said.

She said she knows that support will become more important over time.

"I've always been on the other side, listening to everybody else's story, and now I've got the story. It's very scary," she said.


This story is closed for comments.

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  • tabj88 Jan 7, 2011

    "Why is this news? If this guy was not a former WRAL employee would anyone at WRAL really care"

    Yes! This is something is a tragic yet educational story. Obviously from most of these posts some people dont know that compressed oxygen is FLAMMABLE! If you dont find it news, dont read it!

    Still praying for the Allen family!

  • mypookie1 Jan 7, 2011

    Sorry to hear of your accident,we wish you both a good recovery.Our prayers are with you. mypookie1

  • 6079 SMITH W Jan 7, 2011

    Oxygen ain't flammable? Are you old enough to remember what happened to Apollo 1?

  • 1opinion Jan 7, 2011

    dufgolf, From Websters:
    News is 1. a report of recent events 2. previously unknown information 3. matter that is newsworthy. Newsworthy to me is of some beneficial interest to the general public.
    This was a recent even and previously unknown information. Givin the many calls I've received concerning proper storage of SCUBA cylinders, I'd say of beneficial.

    Now explain to my why people who find it non-newsworthy would be not only be reading the story, but reading the comments and responding to them?

  • ConcernedNCC Jan 7, 2011

    silly: Oxygen is not flammable. It is what makes almost everything else flammable. Flames are usually from the fast oxidation of something.

  • golowral Jan 7, 2011

    Thanks jnj.

  • mep Jan 7, 2011

    jnj... Your mentioning that it was a pure oxygen tank used for decompression clears up a WHOLE LOT of questions on how this man was burned. As a diver, I have seen tank overpressure valves rupture in the backseat of a hot car. There was no windows left! I have seen a film where an aluminum tank failed. A crack began at the valve and moved down the tank. When the crack reached the flat tank wall, it exploded. No fire, but plenty of metal fragments. Bottom line: Pure oxygen is not something to be messed with!

  • sillywabbitthepatriot Jan 7, 2011

    If oxygen in non-flammable, then why did dozens of helpless nursing home patients get incenerated on a bus because an oxygen tank exploded when they were leaving New Orleans during Katrina?

  • jnj Jan 7, 2011

    Just so we have some comments from someone who ACTUALLY KNOWS what they are talking about concerning diving, let's set the facts straight. And yes I do know Rick and have dove w/ him many times.
    1. Scuba tanks CAN explode, not just have their valves fly out. Does a pipe bomb explode or burst, same principle.If you look at the video the tank valve is still in the tank neck.
    2. Yes this tank was filled with PURE OXYGEN. We use this for decompression diving and it is breathed under water. It is generally only toxic at pressures > 1.6 ATA. In which case it is like having Grand mal seizures. The drunkness refered to is from the nitrogen in the mix NOT oxygen. When the tank was knocked over, there may of been a weakness in the shoulder/neck area of the tank that capitalized on the fall and caused a failure. At that pressure, even particles flying through the air can cause enough friction/heat to ignite in an oxygen rich enviroment causing a flash fire.
    3. If you don't like this section, don'

  • SailbadTheSinner Jan 7, 2011

    As an engineer, a former diver, and a former firefighter, I too am puzzled by this event. (Aside: The SCBA tanks used in the fire service are very similar to SCUBA tanks.)

    The explosion is understandable – there’s a lot of energy locked up in one of those little dudes. And, if there are several of them, the explosion can cascade.

    But the fire is odd. Logically, it must have been caused by a separate source, perhaps the fuel tank of the car or one of those barbecue grill LP cylinders that look so harmless just sitting over in the corner of the garage….