GATES, N.Y. (AP) — Mike Peters was headed to his job driving veterans to and from outpatient services when he saw a man engulfed in flames “from his waist to above his head” while standing alongside a suburban Rochester, New York, road.
Peters stopped, ran past a woman making futile attempts to pat out the fire and tackled the burning man into an icy snowbank, using handfuls of dirty snow to douse the flames.
Peters and two other motorists were credited with saving the life of 84-year-old Christopher Flowers after his clothing caught fire from a cigarette he was smoking while driving on Monday morning.
Police and fire officials in the town of Gates said Tuesday that Flowers, of Chili, was driving when the multiple shirts he was wearing caught fire from a dropped lit cigarette. Flowers pulled over and got out of his car as flames spread across his clothing.
Officials say three passing motorists — Peters and two women — pulled over to help. Peters said one of the women was trying to knock down the flames with her hands, but wasn’t having any success.
“I scooped the guy up and did an end-zone dive into the snowbank,” Peters told The Associated Press.
Peters said Flowers was wearing several layers of clothing, including two or three flannel shirts and a couple T-Shirts topped by a hooded sweatshirt. The three rescuers removed the smoldering clothing and wrapped him in a blanket that one of the women had in her trunk.
Flowers was hospitalized and listed in guarded condition Tuesday with severe burns to his upper body.
Peters believed Flowers pulled over and got out of his car to fish the burning cigarette from his multi-layered clothing, only to have Monday’s windy conditions fan the flames to the point they engulfed his entire torso.
“I’ve just never seen anything like it,” said Peters, a 52-year-old former Army helicopter mechanic from Gates. “It was like newspapers catching on fire.”
Authorities identified the other two rescuers as Deborah Zielinski of Henrietta and Kathy Baleno of Gates.