PALM BAY, Fla. - A man was airlifted to an Orlando hospital after seriously burning himself while setting up Halloween decorations that included a wooden cross, according to police.
Neighbors told Local 6 they heard an explosion around 8 p.m. Wednesday. When they came outside, they saw 50-year-old Ron Nielson severely burned and laying in a ditch.
According to police, Nielson was setting up Halloween decorations at his home on Wacker Avenue in Palm Bay when he accidentally lit himself on fire while setting up a prank that involved a burning cross.
Officials said that wood, gasoline and candles were all part of the decorations, but the area wasn't properly ventilated, causing an explosion that left Nielson with second-degree burns.
Matt Adkins lives five blocks away from the victim's home.
"To find out that it was that far from home and to hear it that loud, that's just unbelievable," Adkins said.
Authorities said that Nielson's wife heard him screaming outside and put the using their water hose, likely saving his life.
"They put the fire out now, but he is probably a trauma alert," said a 911 caller. When 911 dispatch asked the caller if the victim had burns to his body, they said, "Yes, probably 18 percent of his back is second-degree. His hands are second-degree probably a little bit of third-degree."
Nielson's injuries were so severe that he had to be airlifted to an Orlando burn unit for treatment. Authorities said the accidental fire burned more than 40 percent of his body.
"We came out here and it was pretty gruesome. We have Halloween decorations ourselves, I don't think I want to lose skin over it," said next-door neighbor Michael Barbarino.
Fire officials said Nielson told them the burning cross was a joke and wasn't aimed at anyone.
Police said that Nielson is still at an Orlando burn center and his condition is unknown.
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