A 56-year-old Sisters man, one of four people seriously burned when gasoline was poured on a warming fire Saturday evening, has died of his injuries at a Portland hospital, authorities said Tuesday as they confirmed it was a tragic accident.
Deschutes County sheriff’s Sgt. Mark Eggert identified the victim as Donald Pierce, saying he died at the Oregon Burn Center at Legacy Emanuel Medical Center in Portland.
Eggert did not identify the other victims, two of whom also were flown to the Portland hospital with serious burns. However, he added that the “sheriff’s office has completed the investigation in the incident and has determined that this was an accident and was not a criminal matter.”
Through family members, NewsChannel 21 confirmed the other two people who were severely burned are Kathy Pierce, 52, and Steve Ballard, both listed in critical condition Tuesday at the Portland burn facility.
The sheriff’s office “will not be releasing any further details about this incident,” Eggert added.
A total of four people were burned, three critically, in a Sisters neighborhood Saturday evening when gasoline was poured on a warming fire in a backyard fire pit, causing the blaze to ignite and the gas can to explode, authorities said.
Firefighters and Deschutes County sheriff’s deputies were dispatched at 6:08 p.m. Saturday to 375 S. Oak Street in the area of West Jefferson Avenue to assist the Sisters-Camp Sherman Rural Fire District on a fire report, said sheriff's Sgt. Ty Rupert and Sisters-Camp Sherman Fire Chief Roger Johnson.
The reporting party advised they had heard an explosion and saw a fire. Rupert said arriving first responders determined four or five people had been burned, most severely.
“The investigation revealed that a homeowner in the area had built a warming fire and was not able to keep the fire burning,” Rupert wrote, “and so they poured gasoline on the fire, which subsequently ignited and then exploded the gasoline can the gasoline was being poured from.”
The explosion left four adults with severe burns to their body, hands and facial areas, Rupert said.
“There was no danger to surrounding homes or property,” the sergeant added. “This appears to have been an accident, and alcohol does not appear to be a contributing factor.”
Two victims were flown by AirLink and Life Flight helicopters from Sisters Eagle Airport to St. Charles-Bend and two others were taken there by ambulance.
The three severely burned people later were flown to the Portland facility, where a spokeswoman said they were in critical condition as of Sunday.
“The Deschutes County Sheriff’s Office would like to remind people not to use gasoline to start or to keep a fire burning,” Rupert wrote.
Lt. Bryan Husband said Sunday, "The fire sparked, and the fire followed the stream of gasoline back up to the five-gallon gas can, which then exploded and caught several of the people there on fire."
Sisters-Camp Sherman Deputy Fire Chief Ryan Karjala said the less-injured person suffered moderate burns on the hands.
A nearby home had only minor exterior damage from the resulting fire and there was no interior damage, he added.
"The incident changed quickly from a possible structure fire to a medical emergency with multiple patients," Karjala said. "The firefighter/paramedics did a great job of treating the patients and quickly transporting them to the hospital."
A total of 30 emergency personnel responded to the call, Johnson said. Deputies and firefighters were assisted by Black Butte Ranch, Cloverdale, Bend and Redmond firefighters and the Oregon State Fire Marshal’s Office.