Nearly one month after an explosion that left a contractor with severe burns in Richfield Township, he is out of the hospital and grateful to be alive.
Eric Bujak was trying to light a propane heater, when his life changed forever.
Tuesday night, Bujak talked about what happened in the basement of a home under construction on Sunrise Lane at the job site he was overseeing.
"It sounded like somebody threw a gas can in a flame and it just kind of whoosh," Bujak said, describing the sound of the initial explosion on Jan. 9.
"I could see like the flames in the background, which is why I dropped, stopped breathing, closed my eyes," he said.
Bujak, a U.S. Army veteran who served in Iraq, said his military training paid off. He instinctively threw himself down on the ground, covering his head to protect his face with the hood of his jacket.
"There was a second explosion, which obviously was a lot louder," Bujak said. "That one hurt a whole lot more. Knew I really had to get out of there."
Hearing the explosions, homeowner Ed Strange ran outside that night to try and help. He saw Bujak coming out of the house with his back ablaze.
"We were like, 'Hey you're on fire, you're on fire, we need to get you out,'" Strange said that evening. "So we got him to lay down on the snow with us."
Strange remarked that Bujak remained calm throughout the ordeal and called him "one of the toughest men I've ever seen."
Bujak remembers an eerie sound when he hit the snow.
"I just laid down, heard it sizzle, I was like, 'That's not good,'" he said.
First responders believe a propane leak caused the explosions.
Bujak said he smelled the propane, but ventilated the area for hours. The smell was gone when he thought it was safe to light the heater.
He ended up spending 23 days in the burn unit at Hurley Medical Center, undergoing five skin graft surgeries after suffering third-degree burns on up to 50 percent of his body.
"The skin graft was definitely, by far, the most painful one that I've endured," Bujak said. "The initial injury didn't hurt half as bad."
He was released from the hospital on Feb. 2, the date of his 10-year wedding anniversary. He celebrated by eating rainbow sherbet.
"Looking back on it, I think I'm pretty damn lucky," Bujak said.
He credits his remarkable recovery to the support of family and friends.
"There's three little girls running around, that's what gets you through," he said.
His advice for others facing challenges?
"Be strong, have faith, and fight, that's the only thing I can tell you is fight," Bujak said.
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