Tega Cay fireplace eruption ruled an accident

Connor McKemey was alone outside in the backyard of his family's Tega Cay home Sunday when his mother heard him scream. She ran out a back door to help 13-year-old Connor, who was burned when the fire in an outdoor fireplace erupted.

Tega Cay Volunteer Fire Department Chief Scott Szysmanski -- who described the sequence of events on Tuesday -- said the cause of the fire's eruption from the masonry wood burning fireplace has not been determined.

But Szysmanski said the case has been ruled an accident.

Connor McKemey and his mother, Karin McKemey, who was burned while helping her son, were flown late Sunday to an Augusta, Ga., burn hospital. Connor remained in critical condition Tuesday, while Karin was upgraded from fair to good condition, said hospital spokeswoman Beth Fritz.

Connor suffered burns over most of his body, and Karin was burned on her hands and arms, said Chris Robertson, a driver for the Fort Mill and Tega Cay Rescue Squad, one of the first responders on the scene.

George McKemey, Connor's father and Karin's husband, has been on active duty in Iraq, and was on a flight home for Christmas leave when the incident occurred, said Tommy Johnston, principal of Gold Hill Middle School, where Connor is in the eighth grade.

"It was a horrible thing that happened," Johnston said. "It's surreal."

Johnston said Connor is a member of the school's football and basketball teams and is a star student.

"He is one of our best students," Johnston said about Connor. "He is helpful with the other kids and works hard on the football field and basketball court."

Johnston described the McKemey family as a model family, and said both mother and father have been active in the school's extracurricular activities.

Karin is an audio/visual communication teacher at Fort Mill High School. The high school's principal, Dee Christopher, said he traveled to Augusta on Tuesday and visited with Karin, George and other family members.

"She is doing OK," Christopher said, referring to Karin. "Her son has more serious injuries. They're going to struggle through the next couple of months."

Christopher said he also spoke with George McKemey. "He is being the man of the house -- taking care of family issues that need to be taken care of," Christopher said.

Christopher said that for the next few days the family has requested no visitors or calls. The family is asking people to visit the Caring Bridge Web site, where a family friend has posted updates on Karin's and Connor's conditions and where people can leave messages for the family.

An update on the Web site Tuesday afternoon said Connor had surgery Monday night to cleanse his wounds and that he is expected to require more operations. The update also said that Connor's lungs were not damaged and his kidneys are functioning well.