‘Embarassed’ Thirlmere burn victim warns others to be safe

He’s recovering in a hospital bed with burns to 30 per cent of his body, but Thirlmere’s James Kalpaxis is speaking about his ordeal in the hope others can learn from his mistakes.

The 27-year-old was attempting a pile burn on his five-acre property yesterday when he spilt fuel on himself and was engulfed in flames.

He feels lucky his injuries weren’t worse and is incredibly grateful for the speedy response of emergency services.

“I was very, very lucky not to have died – it could have been a lot worse than it was,” Mr Kalpaxis said.

“I’m very embarrassed and in a lot of pain from the burns.

“I’m very thankful for the [firefighters and CareFlight workers’] help. I was in a lot of trouble and they helped me to safety and treated me extremely well.

“Hats off to all the emergency services who helped me and continue to help everyone in need.”

Mr Kalpaxis said had made a pile out of grass, fallen tree branches and wood from the property in what he thought would be a controlled burn.

He threw fuel from a jerry can on the pile and lit it with a lighter.

“When I lit the fire I had the jerry can in my hand and was fully engulfed in flames,” he said.

“I dropped the can straight away and ran – I was very lucky it didn’t catch alight too.

“I immediately stopped, dropped and rolled and once I was no longer on fire I straight away got into the shower in my undies under cold water.”

Picture: Careflight

Picture: Careflight

Mr Kalpaxis, who was alone at the time, called his roommates who rushed home to find him passing out in the shower.

His friends called Triple-0 and emergency services arrived within 10 minutes.

The former John Therry Catholic High School student sustained burns to his legs, hands and face, which were treated on scene by NSW Ambulance officers and a CareFlight specialist doctor, before he was transferred to Royal North Shore Hospital by the CareFlight rapid response rescue helicopter.

District Assistant for the Southern Highlands Rural Fire Service Stuart Chadwick said the Thirlmere unit had no trouble containing the blaze.

“The crew was able to handle the fire very quickly and there was no issue with it spreading,” he said.

District Assistant Chadwick said controlled pile burns for hazard reduction were encouraged, as long as the correct guidelines were followed.

He said piles should be small, roughly one metre by one metre, and should be treated with caution. 

He also suggested having plenty of water on hand when attempting a pile burn.

Mr Kalpaxis advised other people to take more care with their pile burns than he did.

“This situation was easily avoided,” he said.

“Wear proper gear, have a safer way to ignite the fire – not a lighter – and have first aid and water available to you.

“I’m lucky there was no damage to the property and the RFS put everything out before it got out of hand.”


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