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Toddler gets second-degree burns from manhole steam in downtown Denver

Posted at 9:53 PM, Feb 16, 2018
and last updated 2018-02-17 00:31:45-05

DENVER -- The mother of a toddler says steam rising from downtown Denver manhole covers gave her 2-year-old boy second-degree burns, and she wants to warn other mothers.

"It burned my son and it can happen to anyone," said Ileana Gallegos, who said her family was spending a special day downtown Sunday, stopping in Larimer Square for dessert, when her little boy noticed the steam rising from a manhole. "You know, the little boy is excited, and he'll just run forward, so that is exactly what he did. When he hopped on the manhole he immediately started screaming and crying."

A quick look at his ankle, and she could see the skin already bubbling and peeling, and rushed him to the Emergency Room, where he was treated for second-degree burns.

Denver7 used an infrared temperature gun to see how hot the manhole steam was and got reading up to 175 degrees, but several people walked over the cover without being burned.

Still, it's not the first time this has happened. In 2007, Denver7 reported on a 5-year-old boy also receiving second-degree burns in a similar incident downtown.

Xcel Energy controls most of the underground steam pipes downtown and is investigating the most recent incident, giving this statement to Denver7:

“Xcel Energy is working with the family of the child who came into contact with steam condensate venting in the street, and we will continue to investigate the incident. Typically, the steam venting in the street is from moisture that comes into contact with the underground steam pipes, from groundwater or melting snow or after a heavy rainstorm – and not from the steam system itself. Generally speaking, all release points from this condensate steam are located in places where pedestrians do not walk or stand for extended periods – in the middle of streets and not on sidewalks or crosswalks. Injuries from this type of incident are very rare, and pedestrians almost always take steps to avoid coming into contact with these locations.”

But Gallegos believes Xcel should do more to protect people who don't realize how dangerous the steam can be.

"They should continue to barricade these manholes," she said. "They're unsafe, obviously."