A 24-year-old Portland man who set himself on fire in Longfellow Square on Wednesday was taken to a hospital in Boston with serious burns over much of his body, authorities said.

The man doused himself with gasoline in his second-floor apartment at 675 Congress St., then walked across the street to the base of the Henry Wadsworth Longfellow statue and lit himself with a lighter just after noon, authorities said.

“It was literally just a ball of flames,” said Nick Mazuroski, who was working across the street at Miyake, a Japanese restaurant. “The guy was right on the corner, arms straight up and just screaming, a terrible yell.”

The man was standing initially, flames jumping 5 feet into the air, before he collapsed.

Police said it appeared to be a suicide attempt and there was no political statement associated with the self-immolation.

Chris Hallweaver, who lives nearby in Portland’s West End, was one of the first people to reach the man. He said he was emotionally shaken by the experience.

He said on the Twitter social networking site that the flames were too intense for him to help, and that the man was yelling, “Kill me. Just kill me.”

Adam Stoddard and a co-worker, who were making deliveries for an appliance company, spotted the flames.

“We thought it was a stuntman doing a stunt,” he said. “We realized he was screaming way more than a stuntman.”

The co-worker ripped off his shirt and tried beating down the flames. Stoddard, a private first class with the Maine National Guard and a former Hollis firefighter, grabbed the fire extinguisher from the delivery truck.

A few people were trying to put out the flames, and Stoddard and his co-worker cleared them away before he doused the flames with the extinguisher.

“When I actually had him out, he was saying he did not want to die,” Stoddard said.

Robert Michael Rodriguez, one of the bystanders who tried to comfort the man, was in a nearby store when someone yelled to call 911. He rushed out and saw the man on the ground, with flames leaping shoulder-high.

Rodriguez tried to put out the flames, but with little success, he said, showing reddened skin on his palms.

He said that once the flames were out, he held the man’s hand until rescue workers arrived. “I wanted him to have hope,” Rodriguez said.

The man was taken to Maine Medical Center, then transported to a burn center in Boston late Wednesday afternoon. Police said the man’s family is aware of his injuries, but police have not released his name.

Police described bystanders’ efforts to help the man as heroic. The department urged the many witnesses to draw on their support networks and contact mental health care providers.

Community-based support services like Youth Alternatives/Ingraham can educate people about the expected responses to traumatic events, the department said. The agency can be reached at 774-HELP.

Staff Writer David Hench can be contacted at 791-6327 or at:

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