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Omaha firefighters escape harm when oxygen tanks explode in house

By Wes Taylor
Omaha World-Herald

OMAHA, Neb. — Firefighters battling an Omaha house fire that seriously injured an occupant Friday were spared from harm when two oxygen tanks exploded.

The home’s occupant, Carl Guidici, remained in critical condition Friday night. He suffered burns when a fire associated with an oxygen tank erupted Friday morning in his home near 11th and Center Streets.

Firefighters were called to the home at 1941 S. 11th St. at 8:35 a.m. They arrived four minutes later to find Guidici, 81, with burns to his face and hair, seated with a neighbor on the stoop of the burning house.

The neighbor, Jamie Weber, said Guidici was wearing an oxygen mask, “his hair was fried and his whole face was black.”

Guidici was taken by ambulance to the Nebraska Medical Center for treatment. He later was transferred to the burn unit at St. Elizabeth Regional Medical Center in Lincoln.

The fire was blazing in the middle and the front of the house when firefighters arrived, prompting them to enter via the back door and fight the flames from behind, fire officials said.

After the firefighters entered the home, a large oxygen tank 15 feet away from them ruptured, blowing out the house’s front windows and door and shooting flames into the front yard, officials said. A second, smaller tank exploded soon after.

Neighbors said the force and sound of the first blast were enough to make them drop to the ground. Assistant Fire Chief Joe Gibilisco said flames shot out of the house far enough to singe trees in the front yard.

Gibilisco said the decision to go around to the back possibly saved the lives of his firefighters.

“We really got lucky today,” he said.

Firefighters extinguished the fire shortly after the explosions.

The Fire Department estimated damage at $80,000. The cause of the fire is under investigation.