In a story that could be destined for Outdoor Life’s “This Happened to Me!” section, a fly-fisherman is recovering from life-threatening, third-degree burns after he was trapped by a wildfire last week near Carbondale, Colo.
Larry Garfinkel, a retired Los Angeles Police Department detective, was fishing with two companions April 15 when the wind-whipped fire overtook them. They were returning to their parked vehicle when they suddenly were faced with a wall of flames.
“It just began to crescendo. It was just like an unstoppable locomotive,” Garfinkel later told reporter Scott Condon of The Aspen Times. “It’s roaring — you can hear that sound, you can feel the temperature go through the roof. And we began to run.”
Unfortunately, 61-year-old Garfinkle’s bad knee prevented him from outrunning the flames.
“I told Chuck and Tom to save themselves,” Garfinkel said. “I couldn’t keep up.”
Then a willow tree on the banks of Sopris Creek, a tributary of the Roaring Fork, burst into flames, severely burning the angler’s left hand.
Garfinkel told the Aspen paper he doesn’t know if it was acting on instinct or courage under fire, but he found water deep enough to completely submerge himself while the flames shot overhead, just inches above him.
“The fire just keeps coming,” he said. “I came up for air once and then went back down.”
For five days Garfinkel remained in the intensive care unit at Valley View Hospital in Glenwood Springs, where he was treated for third-degree burns on his left hand, burns on the back of his head, smoke-filled lungs and complications with extensive swelling. A skin graph was taken from his left thigh for his hand.
A southpaw, Garfinkel has high hopes for the grafting procedure—after all, it’s his fly-casting hand.
And despite the close call, he’s keeping a positive attitude.
“I looked in the mirror and said, ‘You’re one ugly son of a bitch, but I’m glad to see ya!”