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'Fire challenge' leaves 12-year-old boy with severe burns after friend set him on fire

"These challenges, or whatever they’re watching on YouTube, is not worth risking your life," the boy's mother said.
/ Source: NBC News

A Michigan mother whose son 12-year-old son was badly burned after a friend set him on fire in a social media stunt is warning others about the "fire challenge."

Tabitha Cleary of Dearborn Heights told NBC affiliate WDIV of Detroit that her son Jason suffered second-degree burns after a friend sprayed him with nail polish remover and set him on fire. The 12-year-old was hospitalized for four days after the stunt Saturday at a friend's house.

"I just want everybody to know that these challenges, or whatever they’re watching on YouTube, is not worth risking your life," Cleary told the station. "My son got burned second-degree — and it could have been way worse."

It’s unclear if authorities were made aware of the incident; and an email to Dearborn police was not immediately returned.

"The first time it was like a little tiny fire, then they swatted it out," Jason told the station. The second time, the flames flared up, he said. The boy described being in pain in the back seat as he was rushed to the hospital by his mother, who heard screaming outside before finding her son burned.

The so-called "fire challenge" is not new. The University of Iowa's Injury Prevention Research Center says on its website that the "fire challenge" started showing up around 2010. Other dangerous pranks, like one involving hot water, followed several years later.

In 2016, a Queens, New York, boy was badly burned after he doused himself with rubbing alcohol and set himself on fire as part of the challenge, according to county and hospital officials, NBC New York reported at the time.

Last year, a 12-year-old Detroit girl spent two months in the hospital after suffering second- and third-degree burns in the dangerous stunt, WDIV reported.

New Jersey's division of fire safety in 2014 issued a statewide emergency bulletin about the dangers of the challenge after injuries across the nation. One major risk is that people who are on fire will inhale burning fluid into the lungs, the officials noted.

YouTube in January announced it would be cracking down on harmful or dangerous viral challenge or prank videos, and it pointed to the “fire challenge” and the notorious “Tide pod challenge” — where people eat laundry detergent capsules — as two examples of what would no longer be permitted on the platform.

YouTube said in its enforcement update on challenges and pranks that stunts like the fire challenge or Tide pod challenge or other dangerous ones like them "have no place on YouTube."

The video sharing site made the announcement following another social media phenomenon known as the "Bird Box challenge" that involves people blindfolding themselves while doing tasks as is shown in the science fiction-horror film.

The platform operates on a strike policy — a violation of the rules results in a strike. Three strikes within a three-month period will result in the termination of a channel, according to YouTube, although content creators can appeal a strike.