Suspect in custody after fiery explosion at NC university campus (video)

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A professor trying to stomp out a fire near a tree was injured when the device exploded in his face on the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill campus Thursday afternoon.

ABC11 News quoted UNC student Will Freeman as saying he saw a man sitting under the tree just moments before the incident, who started skipping away when the fire started while exclaiming, “Yes, yes, yes!”

One witness said she saw the suspect leave a guitar and a backpack up against the tree. Other witnesses said the man started yelling about Satan, saying, “Hail Satan!”

Several students in the area just watched the fire from a distance, but a professor ran up and started trying to stomp it out. Suddenly, it exploded into a huge fireball, right in his face, knocking him backwards.

“I was standing right there,” Freeman said. “It burnt like alcohol or lighter fluid. So, it was just there and gone really fast and he backed up and fell to the ground and just had some first- and second-degree burns, but it wasn’t too bad. And everyone started gathering water to cool him off,” Freeman said.

The professor reportedly was burned on his face and arms, and his shirt was partially melted. He was taken to the university hospital for treatment.

UNC campus police quickly captured the suspect, who had taken off running, and authorities report that he is believed to be a former student. A vehicle registered to the suspect was examined, but no additional explosives were found, according to WRAL.

The Davie Poplar tree, the site of the incident, has quite a history. According to legend, it marks the spot where Revolutionary War General William R. Davie chose the site for the university. It has survived multiple hurricanes and been struck by lightning, ABC11 reported.

“I’m just kind of in awe of why someone would do that. I am just really confused about the motivation behind it since it is such an important part of our school’s history here,” said student Blake Matthews.

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