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Fire-Breather Burned During Lyric Opera Had Done Stunt 'Countless Times'

By  Darryl Holliday and Emily Morris | February 5, 2013 12:27pm | Updated on February 5, 2013 9:14pm

 Actor Wesley Daniel suffered critical burns during a fire-spitting rehearsal at the Civic Opera House on Monday.
Actor Wesley Daniel suffered critical burns during a fire-spitting rehearsal at the Civic Opera House on Monday.
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Facebook/Wesley Daniel

CHICAGO — The fire-breathing performer who accidentally set his face aflame during a Lyric Opera performance Monday had been practicing the stunt for weeks and had done it "countless times" without a problem, his roommate said Tuesday.

The roommate also questioned whether a ventilation system at the Civic Opera House might have kicked in at a bad time, causing the flames to engulf actor Wesley Daniel's face and suffer second-degree burns. Officials said the cause of the accident was under investigation.

Officials also said Daniel, 24, who had been in critical condition at the Burn Unit at Loyola Medical Center, would likely come home Thursday.

The Lyric's deputy director general, Drew Landmesser, said Tuesday that Daniel's father said although his son's mouth was burned, "his throat and lungs are fine," according to the Lyric.

About 1,000 people saw Daniel set his face on fire while balancing on stilts during a dress rehearsal at the downtown opera house, 20 N. Wacker Drive. He was performing a "fire-spitting" routine as part of Richard Wagner's "Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg," the Lyric said.

At Daniel's Uptown apartment, his roommate, Anthony Kayer, 23, said Tuesday night that the accident was stunning, because Daniel had been practicing for the Lyric Opera stunt since early January. Kayer said the Lane Tech grad had been doing similar stunts for two to three years.

"He's done this countless times — that's why it was such a shock to everybody," Kayer said.

He also said he was told the fire may have ignited Daniel's face when an AC unit went on in the opera house.

"It's really unfortunate from what I understand," Kayer said. "We've all been kept in the dark, but we've been told he's OK."

While the opera declined to comment directly on the AC unit, they said they are working diligently with the Occupational Safety and Health Administration to find out what happened during the stunt — which had been approved by the Chicago Fire Department in advance.

"Lyric and OSHA are looking at what may have caused the accident — any contributing factors," officials said in a statement. "We are working hard to find answers with OSHA. We are not going to comment until the investigation is completed."

The opera said that the trick had been removed from future performances.