A Spanish Fork man died Wednesday after he caught fire during a family barbecue Sunday.
Larry Webster, 73, fought for his life for nearly three days before succumbing to his injuries Wednesday afternoon at 2:32 p.m.
Late Sunday afternoon, Larry Webster and his family were gathered for their annual family Easter barbecue. As he lit the barbecue outside his home, his polyester shirt caught fire.
“My mom saw the flames out the window and said, ‘Oh look, Grandpa is lighting the barbecue,’” said his granddaughter Mandee Webster. “My aunt turned around and said, ‘No, it’s him that’s on fire.’”
His family inside the home, and great-grandchildren outside the home, all saw the flames break out, and rushed to his side to help him. They yelled at him to get on the ground, to drop and roll.
“He is a big guy who has had a double knee replacement, and he kept saying, ‘I can’t, I can’t,’” Mandee Webster said. Members of his family found a blanket that happened to be outside and helped to get him down and to put the fire out.
“He was only on fire for a minute, maybe two minutes at the very most,” Mandee Webster said. “It all happened super fast.”
His granddaughter said that after they extinguished the flames, her grandfather stayed coherent, awake and talking. He even argued that he didn’t need an ambulance.
After EMS were on scene, he stayed awake, wiggled his toes, answered when asked his name and showed that he understood the procedures he was going to undergo. At one point, he did say, very nonchalantly, that his arm was starting to hurt.
It wasn’t until EMS talked to the family that they realized just how serious the injuries he sustained were.
Larry Webster’s wife, Betty, asked him which hospital he wanted to go to — Mountain View Hospital in Payson or Utah Valley Hospital in Provo. EMS officials responded that they were not taking him to either hospital, that he would need to be be flown to the University of Utah’s Burn Center.
After arriving at the University of Utah hospital, doctors said that Larry Webster had burns on 48 percent of his body. About one-third of those burns were third-degree burns. He suffered second-degree burns on his face.
Larry Webster did better than expected in the first 24 hours after arriving at the hospital, but doctors told the family that based on his age and other factors, chances of survival were very minimal. His doctors put his chances of survival at 0 percent. Doctors doubted he could survive the surgeries he would need to undergo.
Still, the family initially had hope that there could be a miracle.
Even with all of the support at the hospital, if he were to have survived, doctors told family members that the best scenario for his life would be spending the remainder of his time in a rehab center and perhaps eventually making it to a nursing home.
“He’s a big fighter, he really, really is, and we know he would give it his all,” Mandee Webster said.
But after discussing as a family Tuesday night, they had decided to end life-sustaining support sometime between Thursday and Saturday, according to Mandee Webster, if his condition did not go downhill before then.
Wednesday afternoon, the family announced that he had died.
“Heaven gained another angel,” Mandee Webster wrote on Facebook. “Grandpa passed away at 2:32 p.m. today. He was surrounded by his loved ones and the experience was extremely peaceful. He did not suffer.”
Larry Webster and his wife Betty were longtime residents of Spanish Fork, having lived in the city for nearly 40 years.
He was a retired teacher who taught metal shop at Payson Junior High School. As a teacher, he took special interest and worked closely with kids with special needs, according to his granddaughter. He also won several Teacher of the Year awards.
“I’m actually a teacher because of him,” Mandee Webster said.
He was also a retired member of the National Guard.
He and his wife were married for 54 years and have three children — two daughters and one son. They have seven grandkids and 10 great-granchildren, with another on the way.
“Ultimately we want people to realize how careful you need to be when you are barbecuing,” Mandee Webster said. “He didn’t do anything wrong. He didn’t pour lighter fluid on it or anything — nothing really stupid. We just want people to know in that split second how things can change. Never put your guard down because it can change so fast.”
The family says they have seen tremendous concern and support from the community and friends and family around the world.
“He has people all over the world who are watching out for him,” Mandee Webster said.