DETROIT — A man was so overwhelmed by the bedbugs in his Detroit apartment that he sprayed himself with alcohol and then tried to light one of them on fire, badly burning himself in the ensuing flames.
By the time the accidental fire was extinguished, about four units had been destroyed by flames, and two dozen more received water damage.
The fire started at around 4:30 a.m. Sunday at the St. Antoine Gardens apartment complex in Midtown Detroit. That's when the man thought bedbugs had returned to his apartment and sprayed alcohol on his couch and body in an attempt to destroy them, said Dan Austin, a mayor’s office spokesman.
But then, while sitting on the alcohol-doused couch, the man lit a cigarette and also tried to set one of the bedbugs on fire, Austin said. That caused the couch to catch fire, along with the man’s body.
Within minutes, Phyllis Waller heard shouts from her room just down the hall, on the building's eighth floor. When she looked through her peephole, the smoke was so thick that she couldn’t see the door across the hall. She said she escaped by crawling to the stairwell.
The man who started the fire escaped as well, but his burns were severe. When resident Johanahn Larsosa saw him in the lobby, the skin on his arms seemed to be falling off. While they waited for help to arrive, the man got to his knees and asked Larsosa to pray with him.
“He was melting,” Larsosa said. “I was scared. He was screaming.”
The man was taken to a hospital, where he is still recovering, Austin said.
Bedbugs are endemic to St. Antoine Apartments, residents said Friday. Fifth-floor resident Rolando Millender said he knows of seven people on his floor alone who have filed complaints about bedbugs.
A management official on-site declined to comment, and other officials with the company could not be reached.
The man, who has not been identified, is not the first to spark a major fire in Detroit while fighting bedbugs. Sherry Young said she had been battling bedbugs for close to a year on the city’s west side when she put rubbing alcohol all over herself and the floor, even as her oven and stovetop were on as well.
The fire caused the 48-unit complex roof to cave in, and most of the building was destroyed either by fire or water damage. Five people were taken to a hospital, including Young, who had minor injuries..