In one family’s big Pahrump backyard, the three boys were just trying to keep warm.
Before the burns, before the airlift to University Medical Center, before the surgeries, it was dark. The wind lightly gusted.
The boys, ages 12 and 13, had been hoping to spot a coyote from within the safety of the backyard’s fence line the night of Dec. 2. One had sworn he’d seen the animal a different day. But after an hour of searching and making rabbit calls to attract the predator, no luck.
They didn’t want to give up and go inside. They wanted to keep playing. But it was chilly. So they turned their attention toward building a fire, the father of one of them told the Las Vegas Review-Journal.
It was small at first. Just smoke, really. Together — unbeknownst to any adults inside, just a short distance away — they piled on more and more weeds, which conveniently surrounded them, not yet picked.
They had made fires before on hunting and camping trips. But for some reason, the growing, smoldering pile in front of them wasn’t producing flames.
Collectively, they decided to add a little gasoline. There was a can nearby. One of them started to pour.
Right away, though, the spout somehow popped off, the father said Friday. In an instant, the drizzle of gas became a gush, which soaked the smoking weeds and exploded into a fireball. Two of the boys were suddenly covered in flames: Chase Otteson and Nathaniel Bautista-Cleveland, both 12.
Chase stopped, dropped and rolled, then managed to rip off most of his burning clothes before running into the house for help, screaming.
Nathaniel was in shock. The third boy, Hunter Otteson, 13, got Nathaniel to the ground and started throwing dirt on him in an effort to smother the flames. Nathaniel cried and cried.
Forty percent of Chase’s body had been burned. Seventy percent of Nathaniel’s. Inside the home, Chase and Hunter’s mother grabbed clean bed sheets, wrapped the boys and rushed them to the local hospital, which quickly had them airlifted to UMC.
By the time Pahrump Valley Fire and Rescue crews responded to calls from neighbors, the flames were out and the boys were gone.
“I sit there and watch my little boy suffer. It’s just so bad,” Chase’s father, Trenton Otteson, said Friday afternoon. He spends most of each day at Chase’s side in the hospital’s burn unit. “I want to take the pain away, and there’s nothing I can do.”
Nathaniel’s father, Jaime Bautista Alvarez, lives in California but drove to Las Vegas the night of the accident. He is returning to town this weekend. Nathaniel’s mother has remained by her son’s side all week.
“I guess we’re just taking it day by day,” Alvarez said.
The boys, who are extremely close, can’t yet talk. They used to play football and baseball together. Now, they are intubated and heavily medicated. The road to recovery will take months.
Chase’s father knows the boys are scared. Wearing scrubs, gloves and a mask to minimize the risk of infection, he tried to comfort his son all week. Looking down at his small, bandaged body the other day, he said, “I love you.”
Without a voice, the boy mouthed “I love you” back.
Fundraisers for families
A GoFundMe account set up for Nathaniel Bautista-Cleveland’s family had raised about $13,400 as of Friday night.
A GoFundMe account set up for Chase Otteson’s family had raised about $31,550 as of Friday night.
The boys’ school and the boys’ football, baseball and wrestling teams also hosted separate fundraisers.