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For the week of Nov. 3, 1999 through Nov. 9, 1999

Dave Nelson survives explosion and fire

Popular Nelson seen as class act by valley community

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 he’d 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 Center’s burn unit in Salt Lake City. "I was scared."

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 won’t be in [to work] for a couple of weeks," he told a gas company operator, a dramatic understatement at best given his condition.

"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 Hailey’s 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 Nelson’s 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 area’s most intimidating slow pitch softball pitchers, a reputation he carries with him still, although anyone who’s 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 Hailey’s 1992 Days of the Old West parade.

Nelson’s 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 couldn’t make it to the out-of-state hospital.

In a telephone interview last week, Christine Nelson, a science and technology teacher at Hailey Elementary School, said, "We feel lucky" her husband wasn’t hurt worse.

"He’s done a lot of things for other people," she said, "so I’m thinking there’s a reason he’s 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.

He’s 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 didn’t move his limbs enough while healing.

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.

It’s a painful process, she said, in which she finds it difficult to participate.

She added the doctors told her severe burns temporarily disturb the digestive system, but that it’s 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 won’t need skin grafts.

When asked if she thought he would go back to work as a gas technician, she said, "I think he’ll be back."

Christine Nelson said the explosion and fire was an unfortunate but rare event and that she wasn’t nervous about her husband returning to his job when he’s well.

"That’s why they call them accidents," she said.


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Copyright 1999 Express Publishing Inc. All Rights reserved. Reproduction in whole or in part in any form or medium without express written permission of Express Publishing Inc. is prohibited.