John Evans has ‘remarkable recovery’ from devastating burns a year ago

January 2018: John Evans suffered second-degree burns to his face and “worse-than-third-degree” burns to his hands in an explosion that happened a year ago this week at a building he owns on Highway 160 near Miller’s Store east of Gainesville. He was flown by Air Evac to Mercy Hospital in Springfield where he underwent surgery and skin grafts.

John Evans today

The fire that followed the explosion in John Evans’ apartment building on Jan. 6, 2018, destroyed two of the six apartments and caused severe smoke damage in the other four. Firefighting efforts caused unavoidable water damage. Five volunteer fire departments responded to the blaze, and Lick Creek VFD chief Jerry Rowlett told the Times afterward that the state fire marshal commended the volunteer firefighters for saving the building, adding that he doubted “most big city fire departments could have done what you guys did here,” Rowlett said.

Evans wore compression gloves for a year and was given hand exercises to do three times a day; he did them five. Later, he was told by medical personnel that most people with burns as severe as his would lose the use of their hands due to scarring. “But I went back to work in three months,” he said.

A year ago this week, John Evans began a remarkable recovery from severe burns he suffered in an explosion that probably should have killed him. Evans said Sunday he’s grateful to God, and he also credits his recovery to the emergency personnel and medical professionals who helped him. But most of all, he says, his recovery is evidence of the power of prayer. 

Evans’ terrible injuries occurred on Saturday, Jan. 6, as he was repairing a malfunctioning propane furnace in the attic of one of the six apartments in a building he owns at Highways 160 and J near Miller’s Store. “I was working in an enclosed space, where the furnace was. I had to disconnect the gas pipe and shut the valve off. It was a ball valve, and evidently something went wrong, and it didn’t actually shut off,” Evans said Sunday.  

‘All the air was on fire’

He didn’t know the valve was leaking, and as he continued to work, he apparently “got used to the smell” of the propane that was building up in the furnace closet, he said. He finished the repair and turned the furnace back on. “Then I went to light it, and I actually saw the explosion. It was like all the air was on fire,” he said. 

The explosion was so powerful, Evans would learn later, it moved furniture around in a house 100 feet away. It blew out walls, including a wall of sheet rock that landed on a couple napping in one of the apartments. The force of the explosion moved the whole front of the building by more than an inch, Evans said. And a fireball traveled through the soffit, igniting a fire that would fill parts of the building with flames and heavy smoke. Lick Creek Volunteer Fire Department was dispatched, with four other VFDs responding in mutual aid

Evans’ hands and face were badly burned. “The skin was hanging off my hands,” he said, “but I was completely awake and alert the whole time.” 

He heard the man in the next-door apartment yell to ask him if he was OK. “I couldn’t answer right away. And then I heard him ask a second time: ‘Are you hurt?’ I said, ‘Yeah, I’m hurt.’ He said, ‘What can I do to help?’ I told him to get me a bucket of water,” he said.

It was one of several “God things” that happened throughout the challenging experience. “I had loaned him a 5-gallon bucket, and he grabbed that bucket and filled it half full with cold well water, and I stuck my hands in that cold water. They told me later that was the best thing I could have done right then, to plunge my hands in that cold water and stop the burning.”

Despite his injuries, Evans managed to carry his tools down the ladder. He was even able to drive his truck a short distance away from the burning building, wanting to save it from the flames. He remembers shivering in the 30-degree weather that day. “The skin was burned off my face, and I was cold,” he said. 

By the time emergency personnel arrived in response to a 911 call, two of Evans’ three brothers, Mike and Sam, were there, and his wife, Ada, was on her way from their home between Caulfield and South Fork. His brother Sam, a missionary doctor, walked John to the ambulance. 

Four of the six apartments were occupied at the time of the explosion, but no one else was injured in the blast and resulting fire. Family, church friends and the Red Cross helped the tenants relocate.

Evans, now 62, grew up here but lived in Kansas City for several years, working as a tooling engineer and a design engineer. He also served as a pastor for many years. Since 1994, when they moved back to this area, he has managed several rental properties. 


That’s the person you’re praying for...

Ozark County Medics treated Evans in the ambulance until Air Evac arrived and flew him to Mercy Hospital in Springfield. In the helicopter, he prayed and sang a chorus, “You’re a good, good Father, and I’m loved by you.”  Tempered by his faith, the pain was “never unbearable,” he said. 

Medical personnel in the hospital’s burn center told him he had second-degree burns on his face and “it was swelled up to the size of a basketball,” he said. He was told the burns on his hands were “worse than third degree.” 

An apartment-building tenant had called Evans’ son-in-law, John Hirsch, who immediately posted a call for prayers on Facebook and on their church’s prayer line. “As soon as they heard about it, our church gathered and prayed,” Evans said.

One of the most devoted prayer warriors had been praying for Evans for three days prior to the explosion – but didn’t know it. Her story is another “God thing” that Evans shares about his recovery journey.

“This lady in our church got a burden on her heart to pray. It was four days before this happened. She didn’t know who it was for; she thought maybe it was an aunt or uncle who was ready to die,” Evans said. “She prayed for two days, and on the morning of the third day, the relative she’d been thinking of passed.”

 But then, on the fourth morning, the woman’s burden to pray returned, and suddenly she felt as if her hands and face were on fire. “She was praying that God would send His guardian angels to this person, whoever it was, and if the injuries were bad, that it would be a miracle healing,” Evans said.

The woman and her husband lived in West Plains, where they attend His Place House of Worship with John and Ada Evans. “They own hunting property in Ozark County, but they didn’t know I own the apartment building here,” Evans said. “On the day of the fire, they had been here checking on their property and as they were driving back to West Plains on 160, they passed the fire. When she saw the ambulance, she said God told her, That’s the person you’re praying for, but she didn’t know it was me,” he said.

Later, when the woman got home, she learned that the person in the ambulance for whom God had directed her to pray  – a man with badly burned face and hands – was John Evans, her friend from His Place Church. 

The church friend was one of hundreds who responded to the call for prayer on Evans’ behalf.

After his son-in-law posted the prayer request online, “Facebook blowed up,” Evans said. “By the time I was in the burn center in Springfield, hundreds of people had responded. “My wife started reading the posts to me. As she read those posts ... you know how sometimes you wish they had told someone something while they were alive? They were saying all these nice things about me. I’m not sure I deserved them, but it was God loving on me through all those people. It changed something in my heart,” he said.

Now, he said, whenever he hears someone say something bad about Facebook, he tells them his story and reminds them that Facebook is “like any tool. It can be used for good or for bad. But that day, God used it for good.” 


A ‘rock star’

Evans underwent surgery the day after the fire. Skin grafts were done using skin that was taken from his thighs. He also underwent a “facial peel,” which his doctors told him “some people pay a lot of money for,” he said with a laugh. 

On Friday, six days after the fire, he was discharged. The physical therapist gave him exercises to do to help his hands heal. When he went back for a check-up after a month, the therapist said he was doing so well, he didn’t need outpatient  physical therapy. “She told me I was a rock star,” Evans said with another chuckle. “She told me to do the exercises three times a day, but I did them five.”

He also wore compression gloves for a year. He was told that, normally, burn victims with injuries as severe as his were would lose the use of their hands due to scarring. 

“But I went back to work in three months,” he said. Lately, he’s been rehabbing the apartment building where the explosion happened. It’s now been gutted and rebuilt and soon will be ready for occupants again. 

“When I went back with the insurance man and the fire marshal and the gas experts, they asked me where I was standing that day. I showed them, and they said, ‘Right there? That’s impossible.’ They couldn’t believe it. It was a flash, was what it was,” he said.  “It didn’t even scorch the furnace itself.”

Evans is grateful to God for the amazing – some would say miraculous – healing he’s experienced. He has no doubt that it’s due to the flood of prayers that surrounded him during that frightening time. “It’s because of the woman who prayed for me without knowing it was me, and because of all the people from all over who prayed for me,” he said. “It’s an example of faithfulness to pray when God puts something on your heart. This is the result.”  

Ozark County Times

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