Witness says Denver woman set afire by 2 attackers ran with her burning face 'melting'

Police probe 3 similar pump-sprayer incidents

DENVER - A witness says a Denver woman set afire by two attackers spraying a flammable liquid ran screaming with her face "melting" into the back yard of an apartment on Thursday night.

Denver police say they're investigating whether there's a connection between that attack and two similar incidents where attackers sprayed a flammable liquid with a garden-style pump sprayer. The two other incidents occurred at Denver check-cashing businesses, one Thursday night and another Wednesday night.

The witness, Duane Ramirez, told 7NEWS he was in the back yard of his adult niece's north Denver apartment at 4333 Lipan St. when the attack occurred just before 7:30 p.m. Ramirez said his niece wasn't home and a female neighbor was watching three children -- ages 4, 6 and 15 -- in the apartment.

Denver police spokeswoman Raquel Lopez said two black men knocked on the apartment door and when the woman answered, a man used a pump sprayer to douse her with a liquid and one of the men then used a match or lighter to set her on fire.

Ramirez said the two attackers actually burst through an unlocked front door and set the woman on fire. Ramirez said the men also went after the children, spraying them with the liquid, but did not set them on fire.

Ramirez said he heard someone screaming and saw the neighbor woman with her face burning, run into the back yard.

"I noticed a lady ran out and she was gashing her face all over the ground" in a frantic effort to put out the flames, Ramirez said.

"Her face, it was like melting," Ramirez told 7NEWS reporter Lindsey Sablan Thursday.

Ramirez said as he tried to help the woman smother the flames but his clothing caught fire near his shoulder, burning his neck.

Police said the burned woman was transported by ambulance to a local hospital. Ramirez said he was treated for the neck burn at a hospital and released.

7NEWS contacted the University of Colorado Hospital whose spokeswoman, Jacque Montgomery,  said there was a female burn victim at the hospital, but the victim's family asked that no information be released.

"I think it's crazy," Ramirez, said of the fire attacks. "Here it is Christmas and you got these people running in, busting in people's homes and the check-cashing place and setting them on flames. For what? $100, $20? That don't get you nothing."

In a second attack earlier Thursday night, witnesses told 7NEWS that two black men entered the Ace Check Cashing store, stuck a tube through a cash portal and sprayed a flammable liquid on the counter inside the protective glass, then lit it.

"We noticed the smell, it smelled like burning plastic," said one of two men who witnessed the attack. "We came around to the front of the building and noticed ... an employee of the check-cashing business and she was trapped in the enclosure where she worked. There was a cloud of smoke and the counter was on fire."

The woman who was working in the secured area was not injured, but was quite distraught, the man said.

The two attackers were last seen running from the business. Police called the incident an attempted robbery.

Sources told 7NEWS that the check-cashing clerk had identified two suspects in a photo lineup.

Lopez said police had questioned one man in the case, but lacked sufficient evidence to hold him.

Lopez confirmed that a similar incident happened Wednesday night at a check-cashing store at Broadway and West Third Avenue. In that incident, a man with a pump sprayer sprayed a liquid at the check-cashing store, but the liquid wasn't ignited and the man fled.