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  • Neighbours rally for boys hurt in nitro explosion

    2018 - 07.03

    Mother Tanya Chatwood (left) supported by neighbour and friend, Kathleen McLeod. Pic: Marina Neil ONE minute the children were happily playing.

    The next minute they were screaming, engulfed in flames.

    That’s how Tanya Chatwood described what happened to her son, Chris, 13, and three of his friends who were injured in an explosion outside the family home.

    Two of those mates suffered severe burns that may leave them scarred for life.

    The boys had been playing with nitromethane fuel – used for a remote-controlled boat – when it ignited in the driveway of the Chatwood family’s Curlew Crescent home on Tuesday night, sparking an explosion that ripped through the peaceful waterside hamlet of Nerong, south of Bulahdelah.

    Mrs Chatwood described on Wednesday the moment the quiet, child-friendly street erupted into chaos.

    ‘‘It’s not something I ever want to see again and I would hate for it to happen to anyone else’s child,’’ she said.

    Mrs Chatwood said the boys had ‘‘no idea how potent’’ the nitro fuel was and had lit the fuel near an outdoor tap hoping it could quickly be extinguished if anything went wrong.

    Craig Chatwood, Chris’ father, said he believed the trail of fuel led back to the bottle, causing it to explode.

    Police have ruled the explosion an accident and issued a warning about children handling high-octane fuel.

    Two of Chris’ close mates from Bulahdelah Central School, aged 12 and 13, copped the worst of the explosion.

    Neighbours said they turned to see the boys screaming and running, flames covering their arms, legs, chest and face.

    Chris and another boy, aged 11, suffered burns to their feet. One resident grabbed a hose to extinguish the blaze and then the boys were thrown into a cold bath or shower.

    The two with the worst injuries were flown to the burns unit of the Children’s Hospital at Westmead, where they underwent surgery on Wednesday.

    The 12-year-old is believed to have suffered burns to 40per cent of his body. His condition is listed as serious, a Westmead spokeswoman said. The 13-year-old is listed as stable.

    Chris and the fourth boy were released from John Hunter Hospital early Wednesday morning.

    Mrs Chatwood said her son and the other boys had grown up together.

    ‘‘He feels bad because it’s his two best mates, because it happened at our house and it was his boat,’’ she said.

    ‘‘They are all such close friends, they have been since year 3. They all live within 50 metres of each other.

    ‘‘We’ve had words with Chris this morning … We just don’t want him to think that we are disappointed with him. It was just a stupid, stupid accident, and it was one that we all wish had never happened.’’

    Mrs Chatwood sought to issue a warning to parents to always keep their eyes on their children.

    ‘‘Don’t take it for granted – something that you think might be an innocent toy just might cause so much damage,’’ she said.

    ‘‘It’s not something I would have ever thought would happen, but now that it has I just want to warn other parents to please try and protect your kids in every way possible.’’

    She said the thoughts of the community were with the two boys in hospital in Sydney.

    Tanya Chatwood. Pic: Marina Neil

    Neighbour Dave Maslen said Nerong was a quiet village where ‘‘everyone looked after everyone’’ and children were encouraged to play outside.

    ‘‘It’s a really good atmosphere here, especially for kids,’’ he said.

    ‘‘Tuesday was a typical afternoon, kids were out playing after school.

    ‘‘What happened was just a pure accident, you can’t blame them, they are just kids being kids,’’ he said.

    Mr Maslen added: ‘‘They are all good kids, no trouble at all,’’ he said. ‘‘Chris is a top young kid, you really wouldn’t meet a more polite young fella.’’

    Manning Great Lakes police Inspector Christine George said parents should supervise their children while they are around anything that was flammable.

    ‘‘The fuel that is used in those type of models is high-octane, so it is not something that is handled by children,’’ Inspector George said.

    ‘‘We are treating this incident as misadventure, it was an accident.’’

    A Department of Education and Communities spokesman said Bulahdelah Central School had offered its support to the boys and their families.

    ‘‘Students were told about the incident at assembly on [Wednesday morning],’’ the spokesman said. ‘‘Counselling has been made available, and a number of students have taken it up.’’

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