Fire near Fallon leaves 86-year-old fighting for life
Nevada Appeal News Service
A fire north of Fallon left a local man fighting for his life in a Las Vegas burn unit with about 29 percent of his upper body suffering second- and third-degree burns, according to friends.
Fallonite Frank Erb, 86, was burning leaves and weeds off his garden patch when the fire got away from him on Easter Sunday.
The flames crept from the garden area to a row of out-buildings Erb used as storage sheds. Three vehicles were also in the fire’s path.
While his companion, Vivian Fuller, napped inside the house, Erb rushed around his land and attempted to douse the fire with a garden hose.
Waynette Van Fleet, Erb’s step-granddaughter, said he tried to fight the fire for a half hour before help arrived.
Knowing how much Fuller liked her car, Erb tried to move the car from the area, but only got it backed up before the flames overtook the vehicle.
As the fire grew, a tall tree in the backyard caught fire, sending flames high into the sky. Neighbors Lon and Jeanetta Cook, out walking their dog, saw the flames and quickly crossed the bridge to the home site, which sits hidden behind a large irrigation canal embankment.
According to Van Fleet, Cook saw Erb still sitting in the car trying to move it while flames covered the passenger side of the vehicle.
Cook told Van Fleet later that it took his mind a moment to register what was happening, but he found himself running toward the burning car. He tried to pull Erb from the car, but the elderly man would not budge. Finally, he grabbed Erb’s wrists and dragged him from the vehicle to safety.
Van Fleet said when Cook pulled Erb out of the car, the burned skin on his hands, wrists and forearms fell off.
When asked if anyone was inside the home, which sits just feet from the burning area, Erb pointed to the back of the house.
Cook and his wife raced into the house to find Fuller in the bedroom. They quickly asked if she was all right, if she was mobile and told her to get dressed and out immediately.
“I couldn’t even smell the smoke,” Fuller said, adding that she had heard noises from outside but wasn’t aware of the fire.
“The flames were still going,” she said. “It was just like a nightmare.”
After both Erb and Fuller were out of the house, the fire department arrived and put the fire out. All that remains of the out-buildings are charred wood, burned 55-gallon barrels and piles of ash.
At the hospital, Fuller was checked out and released, but Erb suffered burns to his upper body. He was taken via helicopter to the University Medical Center Wound & Burn Care Center in Las Vegas, where he remains today.
According to Van Fleet, 29 percent of Erb’s upper body was burned. Of that, 17 percent is third degree burns, while the remaining portion is second degree burns.
“He’s in critical but stable condition,” Van Fleet said, adding that Erb is a man with nine lives.
She said Erb was electrocuted, run over by horses and tractors and healed from a punctured lung.
“They raise them tough here,” Van Fleet said. “But they need some common sense.”
Van Fleet, while caring deeply for her grandfather, sees this incident as a cautionary tale.
“Fire creates its own wind,” she said, emphasizing the importance of taking care of fire, especially during the windy months of March and April. “This was preventable.” she said.