An employee of Showalter Fireworks was seriously burned in a flashover fire Monday morning while disposing of powder from old fireworks at the business site west of Inman.
Jason Ukele, 39, of Salina, was airlifted from the scene off North Plum to the St. Francis Medical Center burn unit in Wichita, where he was listed in critical condition Monday afternoon.
He suffered burns to his right leg and right hand, said business owner Steve Showalter, who is Ukele's father-in-law.
"We were destroying powder and it went wrong," said Showalter, who has operated the firework business in McPherson County, less than a mile north of the Reno County line, for 32 years.
"We were just doing a few pounds of loose powder," Showalter said. "We were lighting it in small batches, of 3 to 4 ounces at a time. We do this routinely. This one flashed instead of burned. I have no idea why it did what it did."
Ukele was igniting the powder with a flare attached to a four-foot pole, Showalter said. They were the only two at the burn pit and Showalter was not hurt.
"This is something we'd done for 30 years -- destroying fireworks that are not serviceable," he said. "It's a safety thing for our customers, rather than put these products out to the public. This time it didn't work."