Man, thrown from camper during explosion, saves wife from intense fire

Mar 12, 2018, 3:40 PM | Updated: 11:30 pm
A Chubbuck man was honored by the American Red Cross Thursday for saving his wife from an intense f...
A Chubbuck man was honored by the American Red Cross Thursday for saving his wife from an intense fire after an explosion occurred in their camper.

CHUBBUCK, Idaho — A Chubbuck man was honored by the American Red Cross Thursday for saving his wife from an intense fire after an explosion occurred in their camper.

Larry and Joyce Orchard were on their way to hunt with a friend near Mt. Borah last October.

The week before their trip, Larry unhooked a heater from a gas valve inside the camper but forgot to turn the gas line off.

Joyce suffered a stroke eight years ago and can’t walk. She was along for the ride when the couple stopped to spend the night and woke up the next morning for breakfast.

“I tried to make the coffee and I couldn’t get the stove to light,” Larry recalls. “I’m smelling propane that’s leaking from the bottom (open gas line) but I’m thinking it’s coming from the burner. After a while smelling propane, I think it kind of dulls your senses.”

Larry tried repeatedly to light the stove without success before reaching for a match. He lit the match and the burner finally ignited.

“I reached up to grab the oatmeal and when I brought it down, the fire just jumped off the stovetop and the whole room went, ‘Kawoosh! Boom!’” Larry tells EastIdahoNews.com. “It blew me like a champagne cork right out the closed door. I landed about 15 feet in the sagebrush and the fire’s just roaring out of the doorway. And she’s in there.”

Joyce was sitting on a couch near the stove with their dog Spanky. The pooch could have run out the door but stayed near Joyce’s side the entire time.

With burns on his hands and back, Larry bolted back into the burning trailer.

“I bounced right back in, picked her up and I threw her like a log out of the pickup,” Larry says. “I aimed her at the door and chucked her because I couldn’t walk her past that torch and I couldn’t take the time to walk her out and try to get down through that narrow doorway of the camper.”

Larry ran to the front of the trailer and shut the gas off. He waited for the flames to die down inside before using a fire exingusher to put out hot spots.

Joyce had severe burns on her face, eyes, hands and inside her throat. She was in shock and couldn’t move.

With no cell phone signal and the nearest hospital over an hour away in Arco, Larry jumped in the truck and took off.

“My hands were burned off. Melted. So I drove with the back of my thumb and my wrist and then I alternated with my elbows clear to Arco,” Larry says.

The Orchards arrived at the Lost Rivers Medical Clinic and Joyce was flown to Portneuf Medical Center before being transferred to the University of Utah Burn Center with second-degree burns.

“She looked like a Hiroshima victim. It was terrible,” Larry says. “They told me she was going to die.”

After ten agonizing days, Joyce began improving and she was released from the hospital after two weeks.

Since that day, Larry has thought a lot about the fire and says he’s fortunate he and his wife weren’t wearing nylon.

“Leave the nylon off of you when you’re camping,” Larry says. “It instantly melts in one second and now you’ve got a gooey, melting plastic mess all over you that’s burning hot and how you gonna get that off?”

Larry was honored as an “East Idaho Real Hero” by the American Red Cross during a luncheon last week. He says he wasn’t doing anything heroic and just wanted to save his wife from burning to death.

The couple admits they’re lucky to be alive and know this story could have had a different ending.

“I was able to just react instantly,” Larry says. “If I’d have waited or paused or went into shock, like she did, then we would not be here today.”

Nate Eaton

Click here for updates on this story

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Man, thrown from camper during explosion, saves wife from intense fire