A SOUTH Wales man, hit by a fireball, has thanked his heroic neighbour for saving his life.
Robert Stakes was drinking with his neighbour last week when he went to top up the fire in the back garden.
After throwing a cup of petrol into a small oil drum and seeing nothing happen, Mr Stakes went to throw a second cup.
As he did a fireball erupted from the drum, setting him on fire from the chest, up to his face and his hair.
“Frightened is a mild word to use, it was the worst pain I have experienced in my life,” Mr Stakes said.
“At first it was so surreal and so quick, the way it spread up.
“Luckily I had my glasses on and was able to close my eyes in time.
“My main fear was my eyes. I remember just closing my eyes and mouth.”
As he went up in flames, his neighbour, Neil Edwards, acted quickly to tackle the fire.
He tackled Mr Stakes to the ground and began attempting to put him out.
Mr Stakes recalled: “He dived on me and tried to put me out. It took him a few attempts.
“It felt like the entire thing lasted for about a minute.”
Eventually Mr Edwards managed to extinguish his neighbour, and he was rushed to the burns unit at Morriston Hospital.
Mr Stakes said his main fear when he was in hospital was losing his sight or becoming disfigured in a way that meant he had to give up his job as a lollipop man at Palmerston School, near his Ffordd Elin home in Barry.
He suffered bad burns to his face and ear, and may need a skin graft on his hand, but Mr Stakes main takeaway from the incident is how lucky he was.
He said: “I know it was an accident and accidents happen, but I’m still truly sorry that my actions could’ve caused injuries and trauma to others.
“I have still got a way to go to recover, but that doesn’t bother me, I just thank my lucky stars that I’m home with the ones I love around me.
“Neil is a hero to me, and he doesn’t even realise he is a hero.
“He was willing to put his life in danger to save mine, I am blessed, proud and thankful to call him a friend.”
Mr Stakes added that he hopes sharing the story of his “moment of stupidity” will prevent others from suffering the same.
He said: “I wanted to share my story to hopefully show people that some actions change your life in seconds, and others’ too, not just mentally but physically too.
“I could have healed and carried on with my life but I believe if you don’t learn from your mistakes and turn it into a positive it is pointless and all the stress that I caused would be for nothing.
“So I want to help others not make my mistake and make them aware of the dangers of fire, to you and to the people around you.”