What started as a cooking experiment ended in near-tragedy for Carroll (Mont.) College sophomore defensive tackle Kyle Smith.

The 2010 graduate of Kelly Walsh High School was attempting to make a blooming onion on June 23 and was heating some oil on the stove at his girlfriend’s house in Helena, Mont., when the oil began to smoke.

“Kyle didn’t want the smoke alarms to go off so he grabbed the pot off the stove and was taking it outside,” his girlfriend, Christie Fredericks said. “The next thing I know the lid popped and the oil overflowed. Kyle slipped on the oil and it burned him.

“By that time the house was starting to fill with smoke and Kyle was just screaming at me and my daughter to get out of the house.”

Fredericks and her 2-year-old daughter, Lacie, ran to the garage, waiting for Smith to join them.

When he didn’t, Fredericks ran to the front door.

“I couldn’t see Kyle at first because of all the smoke,” Fredericks said. “And then I heard him screaming, 'Call 911 … my feet are burnt off.'

“When I finally saw him his pants were melted and he was army crawling to the door. It was pretty traumatic.”

After police and paramedics arrived and were able to stabilize Smith, he was first taken to the emergency room at a local hospital and later flown to the University of Utah Burn Center. Smith had second-degree burns on his lower arms and third-degree burns on his feet and lower legs.

“He’s burned on 20 percent of his body,” Mitch Smith, Kyle’s father, said. “His arms are looking a lot better, but it’s going to take some time for his legs to heal.”

Friday, Smith underwent skin graft surgery, with doctors taking skin from his thighs to replace the skin he lost on his feet, toes, shins and calves.

Mitch Smith said that Kyle will have to remain in bed for another week and at the Burn Center for at least one more month. After that, doctors estimate that it will be four months until he is able to run and “probably six months” before he can begin working out.

Throughout the ordeal, Kyle has been in good spirits, according to both Fredericks and his father.

“Kyle has been amazing,” Fredericks said. “He’s keeping me strong … he’s my hero.”

Kyle Smith was an all-state football player for the Trojans in 2010 and also competed in wrestling and track and field at KW. The 6-foot-4, 225-pound Smith redshirted his first year at Carroll College before starting as a defensive tackle this past season.

Because the accident didn’t happen on the field or while Smith was taking part in any team activities, Carroll College isn’t responsible to cover any of Smith’s medical costs. With that in mind, Kyle’s brother, Levi Kerstiens, has established a donation fund to help defray the medical costs, as well as to help Fredericks and her daughter.

People interested in helping can give to the “Kyle Smith Donation Fund” at either of the Reliant Federal Credit Unions in Casper.

Contact sports reporter Jack Nowlin at 307-266-0528 or jack.nowlin@trib.com. Follow him on Twitter @CASJackN

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