Carbondale wildfire victim battles to recover from his injuries
A fisherman who nearly was killed when he was overrun by flames in the County Road 100 Fire in April is battling to regain full use of his badly-burned left hand.
Larry Garfinkel, 61, of Thousand Oaks, Calif., is receiving outpatient treatment at the Grossman Burn Center in Sherman Oaks, Calif., a top facility of its type in the world. Burn specialists and physical therapist are working regularly with Garfinkel to help him regain normal appearance and use of his left hand, which received third-degree burns. Garfinkel said he recently suffered a setback when he developed tremors.
“My hand is shaky if I exert it,” he said.
He is working with physical therapists who focus on working with hand injuries. If the tremors don’t go away, he will be tested to see if there is permanent nerve damage.
He must wear a compression glove, which he said is uncomfortable, 23 hours a day to reduce the amount of scarring. His hand, which he referred to as a lobster claw after the accident, is covered with skin grafted from his thigh. The texture is strange but improving, he said. The hand is normally pink, but turns red after exertion or when held at a level below his heart.
Garfinkel, a retired Los Angeles police detective, is left-handed, so a lot is at stake with the recovery.
Garfinkel was fishing with two buddies on Tuesday, April 15, in waterways near the Ranch at the Roaring Fork subdivision outside of Carbondale when a wildfire jumped the Roaring Fork River. The three men fled for the subdivision, but Garfinkel, slowed by a knee replacement, was overcome by flames whipped by strong winds through the dry grasses and brush. His hand was burned when a bush he grabbed on the bank of a stream burst into flames.
Garfinkel said he was convinced he was going to burn to death. He survived by tumbling into a stream. He saw the fire shoot by overhead while he was submerged in water. He was eventually pulled to safety by Chuck Hyatt, 76, one of his fishing buddies who came back for him.
Garfinkel was in intensive care at Valley View Hospital in Glenwood Springs for five days and was released April 23. He and his wife Angie flew home to California the following day.
The wildfire caused minor damage to three houses and threatened 300 homes, according to Carbondale Fire Chief Ron Leach. Hundreds of people were evacuated. Garfinkel was the only person injured.
“Not a day goes by that I’m not reminded of it,” Garfinkel said.
The fire ignited when high winds kicked up embers from a two-day-old wood pile that had been burned on a ranch along County Road 100. Garfield County Sheriff’s Office investigators called it an accident. The name of the rancher hasn’t been released officially.
Jeff Cheney, assistant district attorney in the 9th Judicial District, said Monday he still is reviewing information to determine if criminal charges will be filed.
Garfinkel declined to comment on whether he felt charges were appropriate.
Garfinkel said a constant stream of family and friends greeted him in the weeks after he returned home. The most emotional reunions were with his daughters and with his savior.
His daughters, Jessica, 25, and Samantha, 23, had been in constant touch with his wife while he was being treated at Valley View. “They certainly knew how bad it could have been,” he said. So it was special to see them when he returned.
“I can’t even put it into words. It was an amazing reunion,” Garfinkel said.
He also met privately with Hyatt, the man who saved his life. Garfinkel said they “spent some time crying,” then reached a pact.
“We’ve decided we’re not going to talk about it,” he said.
About one month after the fateful trip to the Roaring Fork Valley, Garfinkel got together with his buddies in a fly-fishing club based in his home area. Seven of the club members were on the same trip as Garfinkel.
Garfinkel said he has been coming to the Roaring Fork Valley with the club for the last 10 or 12 years. They organize spring and fall trips for fishing and golfing. He won’t make the fall trip this year, but plans to be back next spring.
The fire didn’t sour him on the Roaring Fork Valley. “No, not at all. I’ll be back.”
Garfinkel said he wanted to give special thanks to the staff at Valley View Hospital. He said he has received an outpouring of support from Roaring Fork Valley residents, especially Silbi Stainton, whose home was threatened by the fire. She organized a grassroots effort to help the Garfinkels while Larry was being treated.
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Glenwood Springs police and community mourn the loss of Zeus, who died in his sleep the night of May 5. The longtime K-9 officer loved and lived to work, with a drive second to none and he continued to serve the community up until a month before his retirement.