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October 26, 2014

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Woman: Niece ‘on fire’ during Reno museum mishap

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AP Photo/Scott Sonner

Firefighters confer outside the Nevada Discovery Museum in Reno, Wednesday, Sept. 3, 2014. A minor explosion during a science experiment at the museum burned several children and forced the evacuation of the museum.

RENO, Nev. — A woman said she and her family were watching a tabletop science demonstration at a Nevada science museum when it erupted in a chemical flash, briefly setting her niece on fire while injuring 13 people.

The incident occurred Wednesday at the Terry Lee Wells Discovery Museum in downtown Reno during a demonstration designed to show the mechanics of a tornado.

"She was on fire, completely on fire," witness Jackie Rider told KOLO-TV about her niece. "Her hair, her back, her face. My best friend tackled her and was putting her face out with her hands."

Several children suffered acid burns on their hands, arms and faces, Reno police Officer Tim Broadway said.

Eight children and one adult were transported to a Reno hospital for minor burns or smoke inhalation, Reno spokesman Matthew Brown said in a statement. One child remained hospitalized in good condition on Thursday, according to officials at Renown Regional Medical Center.

Four other people were treated at the scene but their ages were not available.

Officials said a methyl alcohol and boric acid mixture is used during the exhibition known as a "fire tornado" conducted regularly to create a whirling effect.

Brown told The Associated Press that a preliminary investigation indicates it was not an explosion but a chemical flash similar to throwing gasoline on a fire. He said he couldn't comment further on the distinction.

"The injuries were the result of a mishap of a routine museum demonstration that simulates a tornado," the city statement said. "Reno Fire Department investigators are working with museum staff to determine what caused the chemical flash."

Mat Sinclair, executive director for The Discovery, said the facility's primary focus was on its patrons.

"All those affected by today's incident continue to be in our thoughts and we are committed to determining the cause of this incident." he said in a statement.

KRNV-TV aired amateur video posted on its Facebook page that offered a glimpse of the explosion inside the museum. Run in slow motion, it appears to show a flash and flames falling off an experiment table and onto the floor several feet from a group of children who screamed when it happened.

Reno resident Joey Sanchez told the AP he was at the museum but didn't see the flash.

He said he and his 3 1/2-year-old son saw smoke and some children with injuries that looked like little red circles. One child was crying with an ice pack on his face.

"It didn't smell like anything caught on fire, it smelled like burning chemicals," he said.

Reno Fire Chief Mike Hernandez said the museum was evacuated and didn't appear to sustain additional damage.

The 3-year-old museum offers interactive exhibits on weather, wildlife and inventions, and draws about 155,000 visitors a year. It reopened Thursday, although the tornado demonstrations have been suspended.

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Associated Press writers Courtney Bonnell in Phoenix and Michelle Rindels in Las Vegas contributed to this report.

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