(PAYSON, Ariz.) — The Tempe, Ariz., man who was injured during a rare bear attack in the Tonto National Forest over the weekend is in critical condition after the state’s third such incident in a month.
Peter Baca, 30, was airlifted Sunday morning to a Scottsdale hospital after the bear smashed his forehead and left large lacerations and bite wounds on the man’s legs and arm, officials said.
“He had a large spot on the right side of his head that was just a mess, but he was alert and talking, which was amazing,” said Carly Stoltenberg, who was camping nearby when the bear attack happened.
The attack at the Ponderosa Campground was the third incident in the area involving a bear within the past month, according to the Arizona Fish and Game Department, which explained that the bears are most likely drawn to garbage and the scent of food.
The first attack was on May 31 when a bear entered a woman’s tent, also at Ponderosa Campground, and clawed her.
A bear also entered an unfinished cabin on June 21 near Tonto Village, which is about 2.5 miles away from Ponderosa Campground, and bit a sleeping man on his leg.
Neither suffered life-threatening injuries, but Baca, the victim of Sunday’s attack, wasn’t nearly as fortunate. The man’s fiancée and a 1-year-old child were able to escape unharmed and warn other campers in the area.
Camper Stoltenberg said her husband and another man grabbed their guns and tried luring the bear away from the campsite. They didn’t want to fire at the bear because the area was so crowded and they feared that shooting would only anger the bear.
The men led the bear away, but it started walking toward them and they fired several shots. But they don’t think any of the shots hit the bear.
After being chased away, the bear walked to the campground where it attacked the Tempe man.
Baca’s life was possibly saved by an off-duty EMT who just happened to be camping nearby. The EMT had a bag full of medical supplies and was able to wrap Baca’s wounds and give him an IV.
“There was blood everywhere and the campsite was a mess, but that man saved his [Baca’s] life. I definitely don’t think he would still be alive if he wasn’t there,” Stoltenberg said.
Although two bears were tracked and killed by rangers on Monday, state officials are still unsure whether either of the bears was responsible for Sunday’s incident.
“We won’t know if these were the same bears until lab results come back,” Tim Holt of the Arizona Game and Fish Department said. “At this time, we are not willing to speculate on that.”
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