WENATCHEE — Bruce Spencer knew what was coming.
“I saw the gas and I jumped off that tractor and I ran as fast as I could,” he said.
He almost made it. He figures he was just about out of the blast radius when the propane tank he’d been using to burn weeds exploded.
“It was about a 70-foot diameter ball of fire and I was right about at the edge of it when it lit,” he said Tuesday. “If I’d been in the middle of it, I wouldn’t be alive; it would have burned my lungs.”
Spencer, 56, who operates an organic orchard in the Malaga area and sells fruit at the Wenatchee Valley Farmers Market, is in the burn unit at Harborview Medical Center. He was burned on 38 percent of his body, with injuries to his arms, legs and head, he said in a phone interview. Spencer was in serious condition at the Seattle trauma center this morning.
He said he’d been burning weeds on Aug. 20 when the valve on the 250-gallon propane tank attached to his tractor caught on a branch and broke off. It had 160 gallons left inside.
“I heard a hissing sound and I looked back and saw gas coming out of the valve, blowing right on me,” he said. “This isn’t gas, it’s liquid, and it’s boiling.”
After the explosion, he said, he pulled himself off the ground and ran toward his house where friends quickly drove him to Central Washington Hospital. From there, he was transferred to Harborview.
Wenatchee friends Jo and Fred Belanger have set up a website — brucespencer.org — where people can donate to help Spencer with medical costs beyond what his insurance will pay. There is also a fund set up in Spencer’s name at Cashmere Valley Bank.
Spencer said he expects to spend a month at Harborview but he knows it could be worse.
“Oh, my God, I’m amazed and so blessed,” he said. “Everything has changed: How I work, how I use my body, how I think and what I believe.”