BELENA Belen city councilor is back home in the Hub City after sustaining serious burns to his face and neck in a propane fire over the weekend. 

“I’m pretty tough. I’ve had a broke back, brain surgery, spinal surgery and I just keep going,” said Belen Councilor Rudy Espinoza in a phone interview Monday afternoon. “The Lord gave me a fight to fight and I’m gonna’ fight it.” 

Rudy Espinoza
Belen Councilor

Espinoza, the senior pastor at Christian Faith Chapel, was at Anna Becker Park on Saturday, April 27, preparing to enjoy a day with other local churches and members. He brought his grill with him, a large apparatus on a trailer that he pulls with his truck. 

He was having trouble lighting the pilot light due to the wind, the councilor said, and the propane built up under the grill due to lack of ventilation. 

“So when it lit, that fire came out of the door I was kneeling in front of,” he said. “At first, I didn’t realize I’d burned myself that bad.” 

Feeling some soreness on his neck, Espinoza pulled his shirt away. Or at least attempted to. 

“It was melted. And you know I always wear a cowboy hat. Well, it was toast,” he said. “People came running over, saying it was serious.” 

On the drive to the emergency room at the VA Hospital in Albuquerque, Espinoza said the pain began to set in. 

“I was hurting bad by the time I got there,” he said.  

After a brief assessment there, he and his wife, Rhona, were put on a jet bound for the burn center in Lubbock, Texas.  

The evaluation at the burn center determined he’d sustained second and third-degree burns to 80 percent of his face.  

Second-degree burns involve the epidermis and part of the dermis — the first two layers of the skin — and the burn site appears red, blistered and may be swollen and painful, according to the Johns Hopkins medicine website.  

Third-degree burns destroy those two layers and may also damage underlying bones, muscles and tendons. The burn site appears white or charred, and there is no feeling in the area since nerve endings are destroyed. 

In addition to the burns,  Espinoza said the medical staff was concerned about his airway. 

“I must have had my mouth closed. My lips are blistered and swollen,” he said. “People with fire-damaged lungs usually develop pneumonia and don’t do well. Had it burned my lungs, I wouldn’t be home.” 

While at the Lubbock center, he underwent removal of the damaged skin, a process Espinoza said was, “more painful than you can imagine. It’s more painful than I can describe. I have to do that every night and I don’t look forward to it.” 

Espinoza stayed overnight in Lubbock and returned home on Sunday, April 28.  Now it’s a matter of lining up a series of appointments with burn specialists to continue treatment and try to minimize scarring.  

“Hopefully in a week, we’ll see improvement.  It’s about four weeks total,” he said of the healing time. “Right now, it’s just skin coming off. Rhona has to put on ointment and gauze, then a net thing to keep everything in place. I do have a beautiful, loving, kind nurse. 

“I want to tell everyone I appreciate their concern and count on their prayers. I will be back out there doing my thing shortly.” 

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Julia M. Dendinger began working at the VCNB in 2006. She covers Valencia County government, Belen Consolidated Schools and the village of Bosque Farms. She is a member of the Society of Professional Journalists Rio Grande chapter’s board of directors.