By Paul Leighton
BEVERLY — The man who suffered life-threatening burns while burning branches in his yard on Thursday told a firefighter that the accident happened because the kilt he was wearing caught on fire, according to a police report.
Arthur Ciampa, 83, of 37 Woodbury St., was in critical condition last night at Massachusetts General Hospital, according to a hospital spokesman.
Ciampa was engulfed by flames when his 19-year-old neighbor, Evan Smith, responded to his screams for help and put out the fire with his jacket. Ciampa suffered second- and third-degree burns over 70 percent of his body.
According to a police report, Ciampa told a firefighter on the way to the hospital that his kilt caught on fire while he was "playing" with the fire.
Ciampa's daughter told police that her father often wears a kilt-like garment, which she said is essentially a towel that attaches at the waist with Velcro.
Police said Ciampa has "severe mobility issues" that probably made escaping the fire more difficult.
Patrolman Mark Panjwani first responded to the scene for a report of a "man on fire" and found Ciampa lying on his back in his side yard "conscious and naked, except for socks."
Smith, who lives across the street at 34 Woodbury St., in a neighborhood near Lynch Park, told Panjwani he heard Ciampa screaming for help and immediately ran over. Smith said Ciampa was "completely" on fire. Smith took off his jacket and put out the fire.
Smith told police he was not injured. Police called a State Police stress counselor to the scene to speak with him. A woman who answered the door at Smith's house yesterday said he did not want to talk about the incident. Police called Smith's actions "heroic."
Police said a Chiminea outdoor fireplace was still smoldering and warm after the incident. There were cut-up branches around the fireplace as well as a pair of loppers and a small propane torch. Ciampa's clothes were smoldering nearby. Smith's jacket was also on the ground and had "obvious signs of burning."
The incident is under investigation by Beverly Police, State Police and the state fire marshal's office but appears to be accidental, police said.
Staff writer Paul Leighton can be reached at 978-338-2675 or by e-mail at email@example.com.