An Irrigon resident is in critical condition after an explosion engulfed him in flames Saturday evening, Morrow County Sheriff Ken Matlack said.

Matlack said Mateo Annastasio — his age and exact spelling of his name are unknown — is recovering in a Portland hospital after the burn pile he started to melt plastic off of car wiring blew up.

Dispatchers received a 9-1-1 call Saturday at 4:39 p.m. about an explosion at 990 N.E. Main St., Irrigon. Matlack said Annastasio lived in an apartment near the site and was a scrap metal worker. An investigation revealed Annastasio had started a burn pile in a barrel and had used starter fuel to get the fire going, but it was too cold, so he added gasoline to the mix.

The fuel load reached a flash point, Matlack said, and erupted, covering the man in fire.

A neighbor helped out.

“He heard it, and saw his friend engulfed in flames,” Matlack said.

When the man reached Annastasio, he was on the ground and still on fire. The man patted out flames, Matlack said.

The fire melted Annastasio’s jacket and tennis shoes. The sheriff said Annastasio may have survived because he had on multiple layers of clothing.

An ambulance responded and took Annastasio to a local hospital, which transferred him to a Portland hospital because of the severity of his burns. Matlack said he spoke to hospital staff today, and Annastasio was in critical condition.

Matlack explained that in colder weather, fuel takes longer to reach its flash point, the lowest temperature at which a liquid can vaporize to form an ignitable mixture in air. That slow start means some people will add more fuel than usual to help get he fire going. When it does go, the fuel load is too large, and if that is in a container, such as a burn barrel, there can be an explosion.

Matlack said his agency is ruling the blast an accident, although the city’s code prohibits breaking down car parts. 

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