‘You become a big ball of fire’: Fire officials warn against social media challenge after house destroyed, girl injured

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PINELLAS COUNTY, FL (WFLA/WBTW) – Deputy Fire Marshal Lt. Steve Lawrence, from the St. Petersburg Fire Department, has a warning for parents after a devastating house fire that investigators believe may have started after a social media challenge went awry.  

“They are calling it the ‘Fire Challenge.’ That’s where individuals pour a flammable liquid – possibly rubbing alcohol – on their skin or body and then they ignite it and part of the challenge is it is supposed to be recorded and then they extinguish it,” said Lt. Lawrence.

The Jan 4. fire in St. Petersburg is still under investigation. The family who lives at the home tells News13’s sister station WFLA 8 On Your Side they are unable to confirm if someone was, in fact, attempting the “fire challenge” inside of the residence. But, Lt. Lawrence Lawrence still wants to make the public aware of the viral challenge and its dangers.  

“With the flammable liquid – when you put it on someone, it will heat up the skin. It is going to be an irritant,” Lawrence explained. “The other thing is, in the videos, if you look at them, they are putting it on their chest and clothing. The clothing itself will absorb that flammable liquid and then the material, you can’t get it off of you. Then all of a sudden, you become a big ball of fire.”  

In the meantime, Lt. Lawrence took WFLA 8 On Your Side inside of the charred home and explained where he believes the fire started.   

“You can see the fire traveled. It came from down at the end of the hall. The fire patterns indicate the direction of travel. Then you have a big line of demarcation coming through,” he said. “You can see where fire crews had to pull out drywall to make sure we had the fire totally extinguished and that will do damage to the structure.”  

The home is considered a total loss. 

“This significance of the fire damage and how much damage it was to the structure itself, for the most part, they lose all their furnishings, clothing, memorabilia they may have had in the home. All of that is going to be a loss,” said Lt. Lawrence.

An 11-year-old girl who lived in the home is recovering from second-degree burns. She along with her family are asking the community for donations. To help the family, visit their GoFundMe page. You can also email them at treciomother@gmail.com

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