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December 24, 2007

Safety Warning

Westernport burn victim warns of furnace dangers

WESTERNPORT — It was the day after Thanksgiving, and Westernport resident Aaron Keplinger was in the basement, trying to fire up his wood-burning furnace for the first time.

He and girlfriend Katie Wolf had bought the cozy home located behind Wood Street about a month earlier and the autumn weather had thus far been pretty mild.

With the other source of heat in the house being a gas furnace, however, Keplinger said he decided to fire up the wood furnace to help keep the family’s gas bills to a minimum.

It was a decision he has lived to regret.

After starting the fire in the furnace, he noticed it didn’t seem to be burning well.

“I put some more wood on the fire, and the pressure started to build up,” he recalls.

Soon, however, Keplinger noticed the pressure was building too quickly and he realized if he didn’t do something, the furnace was going to explode.

He yelled for his 7-year-old nephew, who was visiting for the day, to go back upstairs in case something happened. He then quickly walked across the basement to a water faucet, thinking he could put some water on the fire to put it out.

He didn’t get a chance to do that, however. As soon as he touched the faucet, the furnace exploded, severely burning his back, arms and part of the side of his face.

“It threw me forward, and it knocked the 1,500- to 2,000-pound furnace two or three inches off the base,” he said.

Keplinger, who sustained second-degree burns to most of his back and a third-degree burn on his arm, spent the next 10 days being treated for his wounds at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore.

Those two weeks were only the beginning, however, of what has been a painful recovery period for the truck driver.

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