Man on fire
TV host says he set Chico magician ablaze by accident
Chico-based magician Wayne Houchin received international attention recently, but not for pulling a rabbit out of a hat. On Nov. 26 the host of a television show in the Dominican Republic set Houchin’s hair afire and put him in the hospital with first- and second-degree burns to his scalp, face, neck and hand. It occurred on the set of a show called Get Closer to the Cosmos.
The bizarre video showing Houchin’s hair bursting into flames after host Franklin Barazarte places a flaming liquid onto his head was shown nationally on ABC News, CNN, FOX News and of course made it to YouTube.
An arrest warrant has been issued for Barazarte, who spoke from New York this week with the Chico News & Review, saying the incident was a tragic accident.
Barazarte said he is an alternative-healing practitioner and that the flaming liquid, Agua de Florida, was meant to be a blessing thrown over Houchin’s head. “I never wanted to hurt anyone and pray to God for Wayne’s speedy recovery,” he said in Spanish.
Two days after the tragedy Houchin had not spoken with Barazarte. He writes on his Facebook site, “This was not a stunt or part of an act—this was a criminal attack.”
The shocking incident seemed even crueler because Barazarte enlisted the help of Houchin’s wife, Frania Houchin, and fellow traveling magician BJ Bueno in conducting it.
Houchin travels the world performing and teaching magic (see “A magical life,” 15 Minutes, Jan. 12). He was doing tricks on the show with Bueno, using his wife, who speaks English and Spanish, as a translator. Some of the incident is recounted by Houchin in an email from the Dominican Republic.
Barazarte surprised the troupe after their televised magic show, Houchin writes, saying he wanted to perform a blessing. He asked Bueno to hand him the bottle of Agua de Florida, which supposedly is often used for spiritual healing and cleansing. Barazarte gave the bottle to Frania Houchin and asked her to fill his cupped hands with the contents. He then had Bueno ignite the fluid with a lighter.
Whatever Barazarte’s intentions were, the video shows him gesturing wildly around Houchin’s head immediately after the magician’s hair caught on fire. Houchin backs away and drops to the ground, where bystanders help put out the fire. The video then shows Houchin face down with several people, including Barazarte and Frania, trying to comfort him. Frania admonishes Barazarte, saying, “His face is burnt!”
The video ends with Houchin calmly saying, “It’s OK. I need to go to a hospital.”
Barazarte insists he is a spiritual shaman who heals people using blue crystals, Hindu chants and, infrequently, the “agua” as a benediction.
“I’m very sorry. This is the biggest pain of my life,” he said. “To think I would harm someone on national TV is craziness.”
In his email Houchin writes that he is in too much pain to speak and that he is overwhelmed by public support from both the United States and the Dominican Republic. “The outrage here and outpouring of support has been incredible,” he said on Facebook.
Houchin has been released from the hospital but remains in the country for extended medical treatments. He said his doctors are cautiously optimistic that he will heal without scars.
More than 1,000 messages of encouragement have been posted to his Facebook page. World-renowned magician David Copperfield offered his sympathy on ABC News.
Barazarte said he was afraid of the public backlash. He is not hiding, he said, but rather taking care of family responsibilities. He remains confident that the truth will come out in the legal process.
Houchin said he is determined to bring Barazarte to justice, but writes that the process is very slow. “As you can imagine, the legal system here in the Dominican Republic is very different from the U.S.,” Houchin says in a press release. “We have a legal team working hard to navigate the system.”
Houchin, 30, has toured the world for the past six years, performing and teaching magic. His career recently took a major upswing when he was named host of this season’s Breaking Magic show on the Discovery Channel.
He writes that he is deeply concerned about the feelings of his wife and fellow magician Bueno, who he said were duped by Barazarte.
“I can honestly say that BJ & Frania are more emotionally traumatized over the event than I am,” he writes. “They are angry and devastated that they unknowingly participated in the attack.”
Yet Houchin remains positive: “Despite all that has happened over the past couple of days—our team has not forgotten why we’re here: to spread Joy, Wonder & Love through the performance of magic & illusion.”
On Dec. 4 a judge ordered the arrest of Barazarte.