Local News

Photographer prepared for long recovery after explosion

Posted January 6, 2011 4:44 p.m. EST
Updated January 6, 2011 6:27 p.m. EST

— 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.

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.