Watch: Performer catches fire at pep rally

A frightening incident was reported Thursday at a high school pep rally in Florida.

Students at Atlantic High School watched a man who was hired to slam-dunk a basketball over flames catch fire, said Heather Cyr, mother of three Atlantic High students.

Cyr said she first heard about the incident from her ex-husband. She texted her 16-year-old son Rian, who said he was OK and sent her a video of what happened.

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“Any time you get something like that that comes across your phone. … That’s a mother’s worst nightmare. You start freaking out,” Cyr said. “Thank God for technology. You can actually text them and say, ‘Are you OK?’”

The pep rally was to celebrate Spirit Week and the beginning of spring break, which is Friday, Cyr said.

The students were sitting in the gymnasium’s stands during Thursday’s pep rally. Administrators were on the floor and tried to dunk baskets when students answered a question correctly, said Kathy Burstein, spokeswoman for the Palm Beach County School District.

The burned man was performing dunks with basketballs as part of the rally, which celebrated the start of spring break. A device that created flames through which the balls were dunked misfired, and fire burned the man’s face and spread to the floor of the room.

The school hired Inferno’s Challenge, a Pembroke Pines company, to take part in the event.

“It’s not unusual for events like this to happen, to have somebody come in like this” for pep rallies, Burstein said. “The pyrotechnics — that’s something we have to look at.”

About 2,000 people were in the gymnasium for the rally, authorities said Thursday.

A total of eight people, one adult and seven students, were treated for injuries.

The man was taken to a hospital as a trauma alert. Two students were taken to a hospital after they inhaled fumes during the incident, authorities said. All other students have returned to class, according to a school official.

Student eyewitness reports

For a final dunk, one of the performers was set to jump over flames. That’s when the man caught fire, senior Danny Lahav said.

Lahav said that at first, everyone thought the incident was part of the routine. When the man ran and dropped to the ground, they knew something was wrong.

“We thought it was a joke,” Lahav said. Then people started screaming.

Lahav said teachers and administration were quick to grab extinguishers and put out the fire so no one else was injured.

Senior Alex Yarnall said he was about 20 feet from the flames. Like others, he thought it was part of the act when the man caught fire.

“He started running, then dropped, like stop, drop and roll,” Yarnall said. “(But) it didn’t help.”

The man’s face was on fire “for around 10 to 15 seconds,” said Anthony Stoutt, a senior at the school.

Administrators quickly put out the fire, and students were immediately returned to their classes. “It was pretty bad. People were screaming. Girls were crying,” Stoutt said. “The guy looked like he got burned pretty badly. It was hard to watch.”

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