Fire-breather: Atlantic High teacher told me to include fire stunt in show

Former stuntman Ricky "Inferno" Charles in the Atlantic High School gym, March 17, 2016, in Delray Beach, Florida, runs while on fire. (Photo provided)

Former stuntman Ricky “Inferno” Charles in the Atlantic High School gym, March 17, 2016, in Delray Beach, Florida, runs while on fire. (Photo provided)

The fire-breathing performer who set himself on fire last week during an Atlantic High School pep rally says that a teacher organizing the event told him to include the pyrotechnic stunt in his act.

Ricky “Inferno” Charles, who drew international attention when he accidentally ignited himself in front of 2,000 students, told Extra Credit that a student who had seen his act at another school recruited him to perform at last week’s rally.

But he said it was teacher William Durgin, in charge of overseeing plans for the rally, who told him to include his fire-breathing stunt at the end of his company’s slam dunk exhibition.

“I even asked for a damp mop,” Charles said in an interview today. “He knew about it.”

Durgin, a school district employee since 2011, did not respond to email or phone messages.

A source familiar with the school district’s investigation into the mishap said that school administrators were told about the performance but were not informed that pyrotechnics would be included.

“There was no mention of fire,” the source said.

Charles’ company is called Inferno’s Challenge. An invoice for the performance obtained this week by Extra Credit made no mention of the show’s pyrotechnic component, although the company’s icon on the invoice shows a man breathing fire through a hoop.

Ricky "Inferno" Charles holds a press conference to talk about his injuries at Delray Medical Center on March 18, 2016. Charles suffered burns to his face, leg and arm Thursday when a fire routine went wrong in front of 2,000 stunned students at an Atlantic High School pep rally. (Richard Graulich / The Palm Beach Post)

Ricky “Inferno” Charles is still recovering from second-degree burns. (Richard Graulich / The Palm Beach Post)

The rally was organized by student government representatives, and it was a student who reached out to Charles about performing.

Charles said that the student had seen his company’s performance, including the fire-breathing stunt, at Spanish River High School.

The student connected him with Durgin, who negotiated the details of the show, Charles said.

The fire stunt is just the final part of his company’s hour-long slam dunk show, Charles said, and he always asks if organizers want it included.

“The fire is just the finale, it’s not the whole act,” he said. “If they said no, then it’s no. I don’t really push the fire.”

Schools Superintendent Robert Avossa said last week that he was “shocked” by the news that Atlantic High had allowed a pyrotechnic performance in the school gymnasium.

Administrators are investigating how the act was permitted. A school district spokeswoman said the investigation was ongoing and declined to comment further.

District officials say at least two other schools, Spanish River High and Boca Raton High, hired the company for shows that included the fire stunt.

Charles had performed the stunt many times before, including at Miami Heat basketball games, but he last week’s rally at Atlantic High was the first time that he experimented with a stronger type of lighter fluid.

He suffered second-degree burns, and videos of students screamed as he was consumed in flames drew international attention to the mishap.

But he said Friday that he is now resting at home and recovering well.  He said he plans to remove pyrotechnics from his shows in front of children from now on.

“I’m not going do the fire any more in front of the kids,” he said. “I’m going to take it out of my show. I can live without the fire.”


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