Investigators believe a man who was badly burned outside the 7-Eleven on Congress Street in Portland on Friday afternoon doused himself in gasoline and set himself on fire.

The man was burned beyond recognition, and suffered 2nd and 3rd degree burns over a significant part of his body, Portland police said. Investigators say they have a tentative identification of the man, and have spoken to people who they believe are his family, but his face and fingers were too badly injured to make a positive identification, said Lt. Robert Martin, spokesman for the Portland police.

Investigators believe the man bought the gasoline at the convenience store’s gas pumps, then walked next to the building in a secluded area in the parking lot.

The state Fire Marshal’s Office is also investigating the incident.

One witness, Cliff Gallant, 74, of Portland, said he was inside the store immediately before the fire was ignited. At first, someone said the side of the building was burning. But someone else then said it was not the building, but a person.

By the time Gallant ran out of the store, the man was already on the ground and had been extinguished, his body covered with white, chalky fire retardant powder.


Gallant said he knelt by the man’s head and tried to clear his air passages, and assumed that the man had already died. Gallant said a woman also knelt on the other side of the man’s head opposite him and was on the phone with first-responders as she checked his pulse.

“We thought he was gone, and he sat up,” Gallant said. “It was probably … some neurological reaction. And after about 10 seconds of sitting up, he just calmly laid back down.”

A few seconds later, paramedics arrived and took over treating him.

Cynthia Cox, 62, was a passenger in a vehicle traveling inbound on Congress Street when she saw a column of thick black smoke, and assumed a car was on fire.

But as she got closer, Cox said, she saw the man was still walking around the lot engulfed in flames. By the time Cox approached the man to see if she could help, he was already on the ground and was mostly extinguished.

Cox said she heard someone say he still had a pulse, and she watched as his lips moved.

Nearby, Cox said the man’s backpack and belongings were still aflame, not far from the red gas can he had been filled moments earlier.

“I thought he was dead,” Cox said. “When the medics came, I thought he wasn’t going to make it. But I had to get out of there. I was overwhelmed by then.”

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