A 4-year-old boy was seriously burned over 60% of his body Sunday after he accidentally set his clothes on fire with a cigarette lighter, turning himself into a ball of flame just a few feet from his sleeping sister.
Joal Hoare Jr. ignited his pajama bottoms as he played with the disposable lighter shortly after 7 a.m., a Fire Department spokesman said. The boy dashed around his bedroom screaming as the flames spread to his T-shirt.
The boy's shouts awakened his father's fiancee, Diana Hartman, who raced into the bedroom and threw herself atop the youth to extinguish the flames, firefighters said. Hartman then ripped off his burning clothes--singeing her hands in the process--before she dunked the boy in a bathtub and ran cold water over him until paramedics arrived. Joal's sister, Ashley, 5, was not injured.
Joal was rushed to the burn ward at UCI Medical Center, where he was undergoing treatment Sunday for second- and third-degree burns to his thighs, upper torso, neck and head, according to Capt. Dan Young, a spokesman for the Orange County Fire Department. The burns were not believed to be life threatening.
The youngster also inhaled the superheated smoke that billowed from the flames, searing his lungs and damaging his respiratory system, Young said.
Hartman, 40, was treated at the hospital for burns on her hands and was released, Young said.
Young said the boy apparently awakened early Sunday morning and snatched up a lighter that Hartman left out in the kitchen the night before. Joal then took the lighter back to one of the two bedrooms in the family's apartment in the 16000 block of Main Street, Young said.
"We're not talking about an incident that happened because of blatant neglect," Young said. "Parents are normally very good about hiding things like knives and guns and poisons. But then they'll leave a lighter sitting out on the coffee table. There's probably 200,000 different homes in Orange County where that's the case right now."
Young said the youngster apparently was sitting on his bed, just a few feet from where his sister slept, when the flame from the lighter caught on his pajama bottoms.
Startled, the boy jumped up and the blaze spread upward before Hartman rushed to his aid. The youth's father, Joal Hoare Sr., 51, awoke when he heard his son's screams, Young said.
Young said the elder Hoare told investigators that he had warned his son several months ago "that he had no business" playing with lighters.
As paramedics rushed the boy to the hospital, the youth was "talking pretty good" and admitted he had been warned by his father not to play with lighters, Young said.
Fire investigators in Orange County have noticed an alarming increase in the number of incidents involving young children starting fires with cigarette lighters, Young said. He added that 80% of the blazes caused by children are ignited with disposable lighters, contrasted with 50% just a few years ago.
"We're getting fires started by 3-year-old kids now," he said. "That never used to be the case. The manual dexterity may not be there at that age to light a match, but a lighter is no problem."
He recommended that parents take care to put lighters safely out of reach of young children. In addition, Young suggested that parents always make sure their children are outfitted in pajamas that carry a fire-resistant rating.
Hoare was wearing a pajama bottom that was not fire retardant, and his T-shirt was also made of a flammable mix of polyester and cotton, Young said.
"He's just going to get a horrible lesson for the next few weeks" as doctors scrub the charred skin of his body so new tissue can begin growing, Young said, adding that the boy might need extensive skin grafts for several months.