ERIE, PA—There was nothing left below the knees of three party-goers yesterday, as 85,000 gallons of combustible fuel oil gushed through the living room of 6-year-old Kenny Dodds, scorching everything in its path.
"Kenny had a wonderful time," said his mother, Diane Dodds, speaking from her bed in the intensive care burn ward at Erie County Medical Center. "Nevertheless, I don't think he can help feeling that the party could have been better. He's very sensitive that way."
The birthday party, which included "pin the tail on the donkey," prizes for all of Kenny's guests, and a surprise appearance by Bilbo the Funtime Clown, was going smoothly, showing no signs of interruption by a massive flow of highly flammable petrochemicals until just before cake was to be served.
"I smelled a chemical, burning smell," said Jeanette Frederickson, a neighbor who attended the party with her daughter Ashley. "Then this tidal wave of burning, toxic liquid just burst through the front door, pouring through the windows, literally vaporizing everything within a couple feet of the ground. I don't want to say it ruined the party, but, well, things just weren't really the same after that."
Midtown Clowns, from whom the Doddses contracted Bilbo for the party, said it has seen a lot during its 30 years of party clown-providing, but combustible fuel oil was never more than an inconvenience.
"Sure, we've had our problems with fuel oil," said Maury Friedman, senior dispatcher at Midtown Clowns. "It's terrible stuff. If it doesn't catch fire, it will still ruin your upholstery. And ingesting it, well, that's a whole other story."
The precise volume of the spill is believed to be 85,550 gallons, making it the largest ever to occur at a birthday party, surpassing the 1972 Melissa Tilly Eighth Birthday mishap by some 3,000 gallons.
"It'll be nice to get out of the hospital," said Diane Dodds, "but I'm not looking forward to cleaning up that mess. I've got Yvonne and Karen coming over for coffee Sunday, and Yvonne is such a snoop I just know she'll be asking all kinds of questions about the missing walls, my missing legs and the unmarked semi-tanker in my rose bushes."
When asked to comment on what happened at his birthday party, Kenny burst into tears and jumped up and down on the spot where his bed once stood, screaming, "I wanted a pony! I wanted a pony!"