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Man Hurt in Traffic Accident Burned in Operating Table Fire

June 11, 1987

CHICO, Calif. (AP) _ A man injured in a traffic accident was burned Thursday when a fire erupted at the hospital operating table where he was undergoing surgery, officials said.

Billy Bittle suffered burns between his thighs from his knees to his buttocks, said Bernie Hietpas, an assistant administrator at Enloe Hospital.

Bittle, 21, was unconscious and in critical condition after the fire, with a respirator assisting his breathing, Hietpas added.

He was undergoing abdominal surgery to repair damage suffered in an auto accident.

An electrical cauterizing tool was being used to seal blood vessels during the surgery, Hietpas said, and a hose on an oxygen bottle had become detached. In the operating room’s oxygen-rich air, a spark from the cauterizing device ignited a flash fire on the operating table linen, Hietpas said.

The fire was extinguished and the surgery completed.

A computer-enhanced X-ray scan of Bittle’s head revealed a skull fracture and a blood clot on the brain. The problems were not related to the fire, according to Hietpas.

Fire Marshal Larry Agee and Hietpas said they didn’t know how the oxygen hose became detached.

Agee said the fire was not under investigation, but he would talk with the hospital about safety procedures.

Bittle was injured in a single-car accident Wednesday night.

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