Dave Nelson survives explosion and fire
Popular Nelson seen as class act by valley community
By TRAVIS PURSER
Express Staff Writer
When Dave Nelson received a call to repair a broken gas line in an
Elkhorn subdivision last Wednesday, he had little reason to think his job would be any
different from the hundreds of similar jobs hed worked on in his more than 20 years
as an Intermountain Gas Co. technician.
A tree removal truck had ruptured a gas line. Nelson would pinch off
the leak, in a side yard, and everything would be okay.
As he was walking between the two houses one exploded, knocking Nelson
to the ground, hurling rubble and engulfing him in flames.
"Fire was all around me," he said the next day from the
University of Utah Medical Centers burn unit in Salt Lake City. "I was
The explosion leveled the house, no more than 20 feet from Nelson,
driving two-by-fours like spears into the walls of neighboring houses and showering debris
in all directions.
Nelson, 47, is often described as one of the most respected people in
the community, and his actions after the explosion show why.
With second degree burns, he ran into the street, told neighbors to
call 911, and then called Intermountain Gas to report the explosion.
"I probably wont be in [to work] for a couple of
weeks," he told a gas company operator, a dramatic understatement at best given his
"That sums up Dave," said Jeff Cordes, a longtime friend and
sports editor for the Idaho Mountain Express.
A quick glance at the phone book reveals that the Nelson family is
pervasive in the Wood River Valley.
Cordes describes the extensive clan as a "baseball family,"
adding that they are to local youth baseball what the Uhrigs (another locally well-known
tribe) are to Haileys Old West Rodeo.
The Little League Baseball fields in Hailey are named after the
Nelsons, and a statewide invitational Little League tournament was named after Dave
Nelsons father, Ray.
Nelson has been coaching local teams for nearly 25 years. He was a
longtime president of the Hailey Little League, from which he retired last year, and was
the American Legion baseball team coach for three years.
Shortly after graduating from Wood River High School in the early
1970s, Nelson earned a reputation as one of the areas most intimidating slow pitch
softball pitchers, a reputation he carries with him still, although anyone whos
played with or against him will likely explain that he is a gentleman and family man first
and a competitor second.
Then they usually begin extolling his selflessness.
Nelson is also admired for his sharp eye and fairness in officiating
local high school basketball games.
With such a high regard in the community, Nelson was a shoo-in for
Grand Marshall in Haileys 1992 Days of the Old West parade.
Nelsons wife, Christine, and their 18-year-old son, Kenny,
accompanied Nelson to Salt Lake City last week. Their oldest son, Matthew, 23, is
attending the College of Southern Idaho and couldnt make it to the out-of-state
In a telephone interview last week, Christine Nelson, a science and
technology teacher at Hailey Elementary School, said, "We feel lucky" her
husband wasnt hurt worse.
"Hes done a lot of things for other people," she said,
"so Im thinking theres a reason hes got to be here."
Even though he was in a lot of pain, she said, "his main concern
was whether he would get to see the [final] game" of the Yankees-Braves World Series
on TV Wednesday night.
Hes a longtime Yankees fan, she explained, adding that hospital
personnel interrupted his treatment so he could watch the team win the series for the
second year in a row.
His treatment, she explained, is mostly to prevent infection, for which
they shaved off his hair. Also, she said, doctors are working to prevent new skin from
growing back too tight, which could happen if Nelson didnt move his limbs enough
Nelson has been doing simple stretching exercises to keep the new skin
loose, she said, but also she and the medical staff have been removing his burned skin by
applying a special lotion and then sloughing the skin off in a shower or tub.
Its a painful process, she said, in which she finds it difficult
She added the doctors told her severe burns temporarily disturb the
digestive system, but that its important for him to eat well so that his body can
heal. She said she has been encouraging him to eat.
According to the doctors, she said, there will be some scarring from
the second-degree burns on his arms and back but that he wont need skin grafts.
When asked if she thought he would go back to work as a gas technician,
she said, "I think hell be back."
Christine Nelson said the explosion and fire was an unfortunate but
rare event and that she wasnt nervous about her husband returning to his job when
"Thats why they call them accidents," she said.