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Opera performer in fire-breathing mishap leaves hospital

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CHICAGO – Chicago actor Wesley Daniel was released Thursday from Loyola University Medical Center, where he was treated for second-degree burns after catching fire during a Lyric Opera dress rehearsal earlier in the week.

“He’s had a really good last 24 hours,” Clifton Daniel, the actor’s father, said at a news conference at the Maywood hospital. “I think he just wants to be home and take it easy.”

Wesley Daniel, 24, was blowing fire while walking on stilts during a Monday afternoon dry run of “Die Meistersinger von Nuernberg.” The fire stunt went wrong, and Daniel became engulfed in flames before stagehands surrounded him with fire extinguishers.

The accident sent Daniel to Northwestern Memorial Hospital in critical condition. He was transferred later to Loyola, where doctors inserted a breathing tube in his throat.

Dr. Arthur Sanford, a burn surgeon who saw Daniel, described the actor’s injury as fairly uncommon and not life-threatening. Sanford likened the burns to serious sunburn, noting that they only affected Daniel’s topmost layers of skin on his lower face.

In a photo released by the hospital, Daniel is shown with bandages wrapped around his head and most of his face below his nose.

Clifton Daniel said his son is still speaking in a “whispery croak” and mostly communicating with hand gestures. It could take up to a week for Wesley Daniel to fully regain his voice, Sanford said.

“Probably about six months from now, this will be a bad memory,” Sanford told reporters.

Clifton Daniel offered few new details about the accident, which is being investigated by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration. A compliance officer visited the opera house Tuesday morning to determine whether any federal rules were broken.

OSHA has up to six months to complete the investigation, which includes interviewing employees and witnesses and reviewing any photos taken of the incident, spokesman Scott Allen said.

Clifton Daniel, who was in the audience when the fire stunt derailed, told reporters he hasn’t talked with investigators but does not believe there was any wrongdoing on the opera house’s part. Drew Landmesser, the Lyric’s deputy general director, did not immediately respond to a request for comment Thursday.

Clifton Daniel described his son as a professional who has had formal training and has successfully completed the fire stunt many times before. “Scares his parents, but he does know how to do it,” Daniel said.

“He doesn’t seem really keen on doing it again,” the father told reporters. “I don’t know what he wants to do. ... It’s up to him.”


©2013 Chicago Tribune

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