Local News

Former WRAL photographer, wife injured in explosion

Posted January 4, 2011 8:31 a.m. EST
Updated January 4, 2011 8:19 p.m. EST

— A former WRAL News photographer and his wife were injured Monday night after a scuba tank fell in their garage and exploded, according to Fayetteville fire officials.

Rick Allen, 47, suffered severe burns over 20 percent of his body and had to have his left forearm amputated, according to friends. He was in critical condition at the North Carolina Jaycee Burn Center in Chapel Hill, according to hospital officials.

His wife, Cindy Burnham, 53, a photographer with The Fayetteville Observer, was on the other side of the wall, facing a mirror. She was cut when the glass shattered.

Allen, an avid scuba diver, was walking between his cars at about 11:30 p.m. when he accidentally knocked over a metal tank of oxygen, according to fire officials.

The couple’s house at 1929 Partridge Court suffered major structural damage.

Neighbor and fellow diver Matt Blashfield ran over after he heard the blast.

"I was getting ready to go to bed and I heard an ungodly explosion," Blashfield said.

He saw Allen lying on the ground.

"The first thing he said was, 'Matt, take care of Lucky for me,' which is his dog. But yeah, he looked right at me," Blashfield said. "He had just come from a Carolina Hurricanes hockey game, and his Hurricanes' jersey was all but gone."

Blashfield said despite his injuries, Allen grabbed a garden hose and tried to put out the fire. “He was trying to calm everyone down,” said Blashfield, “Telling everyone not to worry.”

After his years at WRAL News, Allen left the journalism business to pursue his passion, underwater photographer. His website, NautilusProductions.com, says he "has been diving the oceans of the world and shooting video since 1983."

Blashfield sounded sure Tuesday that his friend would return to the work he loves.

"He's very determined," he said. "I don't think he's gonna let something like this get to him."