Hunting Accident File > Safe Hunting?: > 2004


Structure atop poles bursts into flame; cause unknown

Friday, January 02, 2004

By Ann Belser, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

An Indiana County hunter was fatally burned New Year's Eve when his elevated hunting stand caught fire.

Wayne L. Duckworth, 64, of West Wheatfield, was hunting with a muzzleloader rifle when the structure his family had built on top of utility poles caught fire. He was found by his son, who heard a noise like an explosion and then cries for help.

State police said yesterday they were trying to figure out how the fire started.

The hunting stand was supported by six utility poles with an open porch-like area about 8 feet high, and another enclosed room 15 feet up. The stand was about 200 yards from his house on the farm where he raised cattle, a neighbor said. A staircase was built from the ground up to the hunting stand.

It could be seen from Bowser Road and was in a field on Duckworth's property.

He was in a room that was carpeted and had Plexiglas windows and a steel door, said Michael Baker, Indiana County chief deputy coroner.

"This was a tree stand-like structure, like a tree cabin or a tree house," Baker said. "It was very well-built and very unusual from what I envision as a tree stand."

State Trooper Bob Valyo said the hunting stand was built by Duckworth and his family. It is legal to hunt antlered deer and does with muzzleloaders.

He said Duckworth had been in the stand for about an hour when the fire started.

Duckworth's son Dustin was about 200 yards away when first he heard the sound of gunpowder exploding, possibly the rifle firing, and then his father's cry for help. When he went to see what was happening, he saw the hunting stand in flames and his father on the ground with severe burns.

Wayne Duckworth was pronounced dead by Baker just before 6 p.m.

Baker said the enclosed room also had two kerosene heaters that investigators found on the ground. Both heaters had fallen from the burning cabin. Police are trying to determine if the heaters sparked the gunpowder or the gunpowder started burning and ignited the rest of the cabin.

Duckworth's family declined to be interviewed.

Duckworth was so badly burned that Baker said he had to use X-rays to make a positive identification. He said he may perform an autopsy.

The fire, though considered an accident, was still being investigated.

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