A 76-year-old decorated Vietnam War veteran died Wednesday morning at Legacy Oregon Burn Center in Portland, three days after being severely injured in a fire that destroyed his La Pine home, family members said.
Gary Baldwin’s niece, Cindy Nelson, said they wanted to thank neighbors for their efforts to help Gary Baldwin as the blaze consumed his home at 53155 Evans Way early Sunday.
Nelson said her uncle did three tours in Vietnam as an Army paratrooper.
Deschutes County sheriff’s 911 dispatchers received several calls around 2:56 a.m. Sunday from residents reporting a loud boom and several explosions, then reports of a home fully ablaze, according to the La Pine Rural Fire Protection District.
Deschutes County sheriff’s deputies arrived two minutes later to find a resident, identified as Gary Baldwin, on the ground outside the home’s front door.
Fire Chief Mike Supkis said Wednesday they believe Baldwin crawled out to that point and that neighbors who called in the fire found him just outside the front door. But he said they could not get a grip to move him farther away, in part due to the intense heat.
Instead, the neighbors sprayed him with a garden hose, and deputies who arrived within two minutes were able to use a nearby plastic wading pool as a stretcher/sled to move Baldwin to safety, Supkis said.
"It was just flames," neighbor Gary Slater said later, standing beside the blackened pile of rubble. "By the time I made the call, there was some people, there were the neighbors from down the street were coming down the road, and so at that point I didn't even have any idea if there was anybody at home."
A dozen firefighter-medics arrived four minutes later, with two engines and a water tender, and quickly began to care for Baldwin.
Sunriver firefighters also assisted in medical care and took Baldwin to a waiting AirLink helicopter, which flew Baldwin to the Portland burn center in critical condition.
Firefighters, unable to save the home, protected exposures, confining the blaze to the home itself. No other structures were threatened and a small amount of grass burned, said fire Capt. Fred Franklin.
However, crews were delayed in putting out the fire, as power lines to the burning home had fallen on it and nearby fences. They had to wait until Midstate Electric Cooperative could cut the power at the street transformer, officials said.
The explosions neighbors heard and reported apparently resulted from some of the home’s contents, which included bottled oxygen, ammunition and propane, the fire district said.
Firefighters worked just over three hours to finishing putting out the fire, as the agency’s support service provided logistics.
Supkis said a preliminary investigation failed to determine the fire’s cause, so the state Fire Marshal’s Office and Oregon State Police fire investigators began on-scene work Tuesday, taking samples to help try to determine what sparked the blaze, along with sheriff’s deputies.
While they will “look at every potential possibility,” Supkis added, “We have no reason to believe there was anything criminal or suspicious in nature.” Insurance investigators also are involved in the matter, he said.
“We have nothing that stands out and says, ‘Aha, this is it,’” Supkis said, calling it a “very unfortunate circumstance.”
However, the fire chief added, “we do have some fire history” at the home, as a Baldwin in early 2009 was traced to Baldwin falling asleep while smoking.
County property tax records indicate the single-story home of about 1,000 square feet (including a lean-to and shed) was built in 1956, and the roughly 1.1-acre property is owned by David Crowther of Sisters.