Injured fisherman files lawsuit over Carbondale wildfire
CARBONDALE ” A fisherman injured in a wildfire outside of Carbondale in April filed a lawsuit in federal court Wednesday against a man facing arson charges for allegedly starting the blaze.
Larry Garfinkel of Thousand Oaks, Calif., is seeking damages in an amount to be determined in a trial as well as special damages for injuries he suffered. His lawsuit was filed against Larry Gerbaz and the 100 Road Cattle Co., LLC. Gerbaz lives along County Road 100 east of Carbondale. His extended family owns the ranch at 1265 County Road 100, adjacent to Gerbaz’s property.
The lawsuit alleges that Gerbaz, acting in some capacity on behalf of the Cattle Co., ignited three brush piles in pastures on the ranch on April 15. The lawsuit claims: “Gerbaz left the fires unattended, unsupervised and otherwise did not oversee the area or protect surrounding areas and persons from the fires.”
Garfinkel was visiting the Roaring Fork Valley with friends from a fishing club. He and two companions were fishing west of the Ranch at Roaring Fork subdivision April 15 when they scrambled out of wetlands along the Roaring Fork River to avoid smoke moving toward them. Winds exceeding 50 mph whipped flames to the east. Garfinkel told The Aspen Times shortly after the incident that he couldn’t move as fast as his mates because of a recent knee replacement. The flames overtook him as he reached a creek. He credits a plunge under water for saving his life. One of his companions returned and pulled him to safety.
Garfinkel was severely burned on his left hand. He also suffered burns on the back of his head. Some of his injuries are permanent, the lawsuit says. He has gone through multiple surgeries, and rehabilitation is ongoing. The lawsuit said he has endured pain, suffering, and mental and emotional distress. He is seeking damages for the injuries.
The lawsuit claims Garfinkel is entitled to special damages because of the “negligence and carelessness” of Gerbaz and the 100 Road Cattle Co. The lawsuit was filed on Garfinkel’s behalf by Glenwood Springs attorney Sander Karp.
Gerbaz also is facing criminal charges for the fire. He was charged with two counts of arson after the Garfield County Sheriff’s Office determined the fire started at the ranch at 1265 County Road 100. One arson charge is a felony because of the injuries to Garfinkel.
The sheriff’s report says the wood at the ranch was burned on a weekend. High winds kicked up sparks and spread them the following Tuesday, investigators believe. The fire threatened scores of homes, according to firefighters, but only three sustained light damage.
Gerbaz acknowledged starting a slash pile on fire, but he claimed to investigators he was careful to prevent the flames from spreading and made sure the coals were completely extinguished.
Gerbaz’s attorney in the criminal case, Thomas Silverman, told The Aspen Times last month that there were other fires in the neighborhood April 15. They might have been responsible for starting the wildfire, he said. His investigator is collecting evidence about those other fires.
Silverman’s office said Thursday he isn’t representing Gerbaz in the civil case.
Gerbaz is scheduled to appear in Garfield County District Court on Dec. 11 to enter a plea to the arson charges.