A 31-year-old man is in critical condition after setting himself ablaze in an apparent protest over a school district’s decision to call winter and spring break, Christmas and Easter break.
The protester, reportedly draped in a flag, ignited a decorated Christmas tree, an American flag and a revolutionary flag replica that read “Don’t Tread on Me” before pouring a can of fuel on himself in front of the Kern County Court Building in Bakersfield, Calif., yesterday afternoon.
The man, whose name was not released, survived, thanks to the quick action of a sheriff’s deputy and several court employees.
According to the Bakersfield Californian, Deputy Lance Ferguson, who was stationed at the entrance to the courthouse, saw smoke coming from the county’s Christmas tree outside. He ran to the site, carrying a fire extinguisher.
Upon arriving, the man, standing next to the burning tree and holding a red can over his head, poured a liquid over his head and flames quickly jumped from the tree to engulf him.
Burned protester (Courtesy of KGET-TV, Bakersfield)
Despite Ferguson’s repeated efforts to convince the man to drop to the ground as he and a parole agent used their fire extinguishers, the burning man stood with his arms across his chest and his head bent down, saying, “No, no, no.”
Ferguson finally grabbed a sweater he found on the ground to beat out the flames.
The immolation attempt came one day after the Kern High School Board of Trustees voted to return to the use of Christmas and Easter break, instead of winter and spring break, for the holiday vacations.
“We’re just trying to uphold American cultural and religious history,” Chad Vegas, a minister and member of the board of trustees who proposed the name changes Dec. 6., told Associated Press earlier this week.
“It’s not even the biggest item on the agenda, but the liberals are obsessing about it,” he said before the 5-1 vote to revert the names to their pre-1980s titles.
The board represents a district of more than 30,000 students.
The injured man suffered first-degree burns to his shoulders and arms, said Bakersfield fire Capt. Garth Milam. He also had third degree burns to his face.
“It’s the most awful thing I’ve ever seen in my entire life,” Deputy Ferguson said.
According to Bakersfield’s KGET-TV news, the man carried a sign that read, “(Expletive) religious freedom and the silent KHSD.”
He also made a statement while in the ambulance about the destructive effects of religion, said Milam.
“I’m sad that any man would light themselves [sic] on fire because they [sic] disagree with a decision by a representative board elected by the voters,” said trustee Vegas. “My reaction as pastor is that it demonstrates the deep depravity of man and his need for the grace of God through Jesus Christ.”