Feature Photo by Rob Black
The expectation is always the same. You played with fire, you were fine. You’ve done it twice, then three times, then you lost count. You were fine, and you always will be, your brain tells you. As part of our programing our brain is built to make deductions and assumptions based on repeating events. Does that explain why we see experienced fire performers meet with tragedy, perhaps more often than amateurs? Most likely. Does it present an excuse? Not at all. Even if you tell yourself you’ll “accept the consequences” you may not even be fully aware of what those consequences are.
The aftermath of a fire accident can give you much more than a gnarly scar dude. In fact, performer Heather Renee Nance goes into the aftermath of her horrific fire accident in painful detail – and the pain part is much more than physical. We’re not trying to get a rouse, teach you the traits of different fuels, or tell you what to wear – well a little of that. Heather comes on mostly to show and tell you how a small combo of lax decisions changed her life forever in hopes of saving you from a similar fate.
**Warning some of the photos below are of a disturbing nature.
Favorite Quotes (sooo many):
I wasn’t planning on doing fire, it was a last minute decision. I didn’t have a fire safety with me, but…you get a little cocky and confident and you’re like, “I’ve done this a million times. I’m just gonna do one or two blows and that’s it. It’s easy. I do this all the time. My towel is right there, I know where it’s at. If anything happens, i’m just gonna put myself out.” What you don’t take into consideration then is what if your face is on fire, or you can’t see.
I felt rushed. No one was rushing me, but I felt like…I didn’t want them waiting on me. I didn’t take a lot of the precautions that I always, always take. So I broke all my own rules…
It happened so fast but so slow…I was thinking in my head “no no no no…I’m not gonna let this happen,” but finally I couldn’t do anything anymore and everything was on fire. I was kind of like “Ok, I kind of need help.” I dropped down to the ground, and dropped to my knees looking for my towel but I couldn’t see anything. There was just fire.
I just remember waking up and my face was completely mummified. I was in the hospital for almost a month because of those couple of seconds. It just happened so fast.
This is all the hair I have left. It was coming out in handfuls on my way to the hospital. [In the hospital] all that stuff was stuck to my face, and all the tubes were stuck down my nose and I wasn’t able to get up and do anything.
My shoulder burned so deep, I had to spend a week with a cadaver skin to get my skin ready for a graft. They actually took skin from my left butt cheek – two huge chunks – almost took it off with a cheese slicer and put it on there. Also my neck had to be grafted.
I had so many things planned for that week, so many opportunities that were starting off and then it’s like…I’m out. Half the people didn’t know what happened to me. They thought that I just dogged out on my gigs and responsibilities.
I never thought about my earings…I had burned a hole inside where the metal had gotten hot.
The photographer was having a pretty hard time with what happened. And I never thought about the psychological effects of somebody seeing something like that. You have the responsibility of that if you’re a performer. A little 4 year old [watching might be] scarred for life.People in the crowd don’t know what to do and it’s not their responsibility.
They said it was a shock. They were talking about …”Ok, are we gonna need to get her a psychologist if her face is horribly disfigured?” Everything is different. This isn’t something I wanted to change. I didn’t wanna change my hair I didn’t want the biggest part of my tattoo burnt off. And modeling is hard…If I’m going to model for certain things, they don’t want to see this.
I don’t wanna let it scare me into not doing it anymore. I’m not fearful of fire, not jumpy. I look at it like “what did I do wrong? I know not to do that again.” I won’t let it beat me. I kinda have something to prove to the fire now.
Special thanks to Heather Renee Nance for stepping forward and allowing us to learn from her ordeal. For serving (in the true sense of the word) as an example of what can happen. Those who will never be burned because of this interview, will probably not know to thank you when their worst case scenario doesn’t happen, so we thank you now!
In closing I’d like to include a short video of Charlie Morecraft’s story. This is another cautionary tale publicized by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration. Though he is not a fire performer he sustatined burn injuries due to poor safety decisions. It was recommended to us by one of the live interview attendees (biomechanicalclone) . More information can be accessed via his website Charlie Morecraft
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