San Diego Family Warns of YouTube ‘Black Fire Snake' Experiment Danger

"Black Fire Snake" or "Sugar Snake" involves heating baking soda to create carbon dioxide gas

A Southern California family is warning others about a popular science experiment that can quickly turn into a dangerous situation after a child suffered serious burns and injuries to his face. 

Priest Rivera, 13, said he and his classmates were sitting in a half-circle on their knees while their teacher conducted a science experiment in the center June 13. 

Popular on YouTube "Black Fire Snake" or "Sugar Snake" involves heating baking soda to create carbon dioxide gas. As the gas is released, the "snake" grows out of the ingredients used. Because heat caramelizes the sugar used, the appearance of the snake is black. 

“The teacher kept putting on more rubbing alcohol and it caught on fire and blew up right in my face,” Priest said when he spoke with NBC 7 Thursday.

Seconds later, he recalls hearing his classmates scream, "He's on fire!" 

Family photo

Gina Rivera, Priest’s mother, said it was a normal day near the end of the school year when her son was injured in a 6th grade classroom experiment at Capri Encinitas Elementary.

“When I got the call from the office and said that they were doing experiment with fire and it got him,” she said. “It was just complete shock.”

She said the experiment was conducted outside on a windy day. 

“I’ve been going through definitely a lot,” he said. “My life has obviously changed since the day it happened.”

He said he worries he will be disfigured for the rest of his life. 

“Will my eyesight get better? Will I be scarring for the rest of my life,” questioned Priest.

Gina questions why there was no safety gear such as goggles given to the students or why they did not have to sign a permission slip.

“When these science projects are done at school and you hand them to teachers, there has to be every precaution taken especially when dealing with fire,” she explained.

The family is now being represented by attorney David Fox. Fox said Priest’s injuries are severe and he faces potential permanent disfigurement.

Fox said Priest suffered deep burns and will likely need several surgeries moving forward.

The Encinitas Union School District Superintendent Timothy Baird sent NBC 7 this statement:

"Thank you for reaching out to the Encinitas Union School District. The issue that you are asking about involves one of our students and is still under investigation by the district. Due to the students’ right to privacy, we are unable to provide a response or update at this time."

The family did not want to share details on the recovery process. 

In October 2018, a similar experiment done in a lab inside a Bronx, New York high school left two freshmen students with third-degree burns on their faces bodies and arms, NBC New York reported. 

A fire official said alcohol vapors ignited, burning the students.

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