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LA: Hunter burns himself while hunting

February 23, 2010

'Gator Man' in burn unit after marsh fire

HOUMA - The biggest worry Easton DeHart's loved ones had was that he would be hurt by one of the alligators he trapped in driveways and on lawns as a service to the public.

But it was a mishap during a rabbit hunt in a remote marsh that has left the 76-year-old "Gator Man" clinging to life in a Baton Rouge burn unit.
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According to accounts from family members and friends, DeHart's ordeal began a bout 2 p.m. Thursday, shortly after he and some companions arrived at his hunting and fishing camp near Bayou Penchant in a marshy area of western Terrebonne called Little Carencro.
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McCutchen said he, DeHart and Dupre set out on the marsh buggy and began lighting fires, which hunters use to burn tall grass and flush out prey.

"It was the first time we set the fires with the marsh buggy, and what I think went wrong is it enabled us to set such a big fire in such a short time," McCutchen said. "We made a big circle, and just as soon as we got finished, he made a turn inside the fire rather than going outside the fire.
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The choices were to drive through the advancing fire or try to cross the muddy bayou. They opted for the latter, but "we got stuck," McCutchen said. The men tried to dislodge the marsh buggy to no avail.

"I went in waist deep," McCutchen said. Dupre tried to get across, and DeHart got stuck in the mud right behind McCutchen.
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DeHart had left his jacket on the marsh buggy. Stuck face up, he was unable to cover himself, and the other two men couldn't help, McCutchen said.

'My face is burning'

As the fire rolled over them, McCutchen said he could hear DeHart - not in a shout or with a cry but in a matter-of-fact fashion - describe the heat's progress on his body.

"He said 'Oh, my, my head is burning,' and then he said 'Oh, my face is burning.' . It didn't stay on top of us more than a minute."

Free of the fire's heat, McCutchen said he tried to move and help.

DeHart was badly burned on his face and head, but his first concern was for his hunting companions, McCuthen said. "He wanted to know if I was OK."
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DeHart "never once complained about the burning," McCutchen said, and apologized to the boys for having to cut the hunt short.
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Family members were told that DeHart's prior heart problems - he's had triple-bypass surgery - could cause life-threatening complications.

Doctors put him in a medicated coma so the pain of the burns won't strain his heart. His face is covered by bandages. His eyes weren't burned, indicating he was able to protect them from the flames, Samanie said.
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This is the first time something ever happened to him out there, except once when he shot the tip of a finger off," Dita DeHart said.

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