burning my face off

full (16)I love fire. I was afraid of it as a child, but as I grew older and began to challenge myself to other new and frightening experiences, I decided it was time to meet flame and make a connection with it.

A few years ago, in the middle of a bad relationship, I watched my lover breathe a huge fireball. In a very unsafe and exaggerated manner. But Oh! it was beautiful, billowing out of his mouth. I was hooked. I learned through friends who had been doing it more carefully-to look up into the sky and send the breath with the flame, to sputter just right so as not to splatter, to use the right fluids…to wet down my hair and tie it back, to clear the area first…all the standard precautions. I began to breathe fire often, at most occasions, dancing under fireballs at parties, on the beach, even alone, in the desert, on a solitary road trip. Just to see it dancing. Just to feel the glare on my face.

I love fire.

(2006) while camping I decided to breathe some flame to pass the time on a camping trip. The only fluid I had on hand was ronsonol (Egad what was I thinking. In retrospect I’m shuddering.) I took a thin torch out of the campfire and began. Dancing with it, making a big flame sway. I was doing well, easy, swaying with it. I noticed after one particularly spectacular moment that a small branch on a tree had caught my breath and was flaming up. I doused it and began worrying about the woods nearby…would I burn them down? As I leaned back to blow I noticed a low branch nearby, which had been hidden in the dark but now seemed to loom in towards my face, lit by my flame. I had already started spewing flame and suddenly the thought of burning a tree terrified me so I did the one thing, the only thing, the most dangerous thing I have ever done without thinking…I looked down, away from the branch, and straight into the giant blossom of flame spouting from my mouth.

safety first

safety first

For a moment I felt oddly happy. Here was fire, which I loved so much, caressing me gently, stroking my cheek and jaws. Kissing me back for a change. Loving me. It wanted me, too. I felt the momentary joy of an unrequited love, requited at long last, then I knew I was being devoured. I could feel the skin on my face tightening and heard crackling. My wet hair was drying quickly and ready to light. I covered my face with my hands tightly and felt the skin on my right cheek slide off like a wet glove. I closed my eyes and dropped to fetal position, still not feeling any pain, just a soft, close warmth where the flames were still licking along my neck and cheeks.

My spectator doused me promptly, but it was an eternity curled there before the water hit. Time was still, I lay with my arms over my face, cheek warm pressed into cold dirt. The water finally splashed and all I could say was “You got me.” I wasn’t speaking to the man who’d put me out, but to the lover that had just eaten half of my face.

That night my face was indented all around the burns. The skin simply gone. My lips were swollen and completely numb. My neck stiff and my jaw crackly. I smelled…well, we’ve all smelled it at a barbeque, or at a branding. Porky. Singed. Delicious.

I was in shock most of the night, easing off into vague dreams of eating popsicles made of flame, kissing coals.



As the days have passed the wound looks better each day, but the pain grew. The numbness and black areas (signs of third-degree burn) had passed and the pain-well more intense than tattoo, branding, hooks, piercing, anything I have ever experienced does not compare. I will most likely have a scar on my right cheek and jawline to remind me.

I love fire. I will breathe it again. I will set the whole world on fire, however, before I go out to breathe flame without a wet towel and a clear space around me. I will also be more fussy with my solvents and definitely make sure I am fully prepared before I do this again.

I worry that I will once again be afraid of fire-the way after a bad relationship you can be afraid of a new one- but I think it will just take time. I think a bit of caution is in order at any rate, and my confidence was the reason I got hurt. Now, years on, my skin is textured under my chin, on the bottom of my nose, and on my cheeks. I have a crease along my mouth that wasn’t there before this happened, and I have an area on my upper lip, and another part, on my nose, I still can’t feel. Nothing obvious, nothing big, just enough for me to be reminded sometimes.

To all you fire performers out there-keep it up! be safe. My heart’s with you.

Originally  Published on: Jan 17, 2006, updated and edited for followup.