How burning money -- literally -- saved Dominik Podolsky's life

Euro burningFirst he shouted for help; then he burned the paper tissues he kept in his pocket; then, he started in on the business cards and restaurant receipts.

It was nearly six hours after he'd found himself stranded on the "down" side of a ski lift on the Austrian Hochzillertal resort that Dominik Podolsky turned to the Euro notes in his pocket. He lit them on fire, one by one, about 100 Euros in all and was just barely fighting off hypothermia, dangling about 30 feet above the ground.
It was the flame from his last 20 Euro note that saved him. His shouts had been drowned out by the noise of distant snowcats; his mobile phone had been forgotten; his first pyrotechnics had gone unnoticed. It was that last bill that caught the eye of a snowcat driver.

Thirty minutes later, at 10:30 p.m., he was freed and taken to a hospital to be treated for hypothermia. He was released and headed home to Munich on a train that same evening.

Podolsky had gotten into the mess by taking the lift on a roundtrip. A spokesman for the resort said the conveyance isn't meant for downhill trips and that he had to ignore warning signs to do so. (Guess they have fear-of-lawsuits in Austria, too.)

Like any overly imaginative sort, I immediately began wondering things like, "How long does it take for a paper tissue to flame out? A lunch check? A Euro note?" Surely most of these things were extinguished within seconds. Podolsky, it appears, was not destined to die on that mountain.

I was unsuccessful in my hunt for information on the relative burn rates of Euro banknotes versus Kleenex. I did learn, however, that it's cheaper to burn 10 Euro notes than to heat with wood in Italy; that the RFID tags in new Euro notes will explode if microwaved; that more photographers than you can shake a match at have burned the notes for stock images.

The lesson here? Carry small bills. Don't forget your lighter. Credit cards won't warm you even half as well as cold hard cash. And, if you're really smart, maybe you'll heed the warning signs in the first place.

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