Daniel Lyon, 25, thanked family, friends and the community for their support as he left Harborview.
His face is scarred, he’s missing the tips of all 10 fingers and he has a long, difficult recovery ahead. But the young firefighter who survived last summer’s deadly Twisp River blaze said he’s grateful for the family, friends and community who have helped him pull through.
“This accident was a true tragedy, but it’s brought out what’s good in the world,” said Daniel Lyon Jr., 25.
He spoke publicly for the first time Wednesday since the accident that killed three others in the midst of Washington state’s worst fire season on record.
Lyon was discharged from Harborview Medical Center nearly three months to the day after the Aug. 19 accident. He and three fellow firefighters were driving up a steep gravel road and crashed over a 40-foot embankment before they were overtaken by fire.
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Killed in the crash were Richard Wheeler, 31, Andrew Zajac, 26, and Tom Zbyszewski, 20, all dying of smoke inhalation and burns, according to a coroner’s report. It was the worst fatal wildfire incident in Washington since four firefighters were killed in the Thirtymile fire in nearby Chewuch River Canyon in July 2001.
“Those guys are the reason I’m here today,” Lyon said of his fallen friends. “Those guys were truly brothers to me.”
Lyon endured 11 surgeries, including several skin grafts. The tips of his fingers had to be amputated because his hands were so badly burned, said Dr. Nicole Gibran, director of the burn center.
He has scarring on his face, arms and legs from the skin grafts taken from his torso, back and scalp, Gibran said. He also suffers from contractures, a condition in which muscles shorten and harden, limiting movement.
On Wednesday, Lyon wore a Methow Valley Ranger District hat, black jacket and gloves over his hands, at times appearing a bit nervous before the cameras and reporters after his ordeal.
“It’s hard for me to believe myself that I’m here today,” he said.
Lyon spent two months in the intensive-care unit of the UW Medicine Burn Center at Harborview and another month in regular care. The surgeries helped heal the third-degree burns that covered nearly 70 percent of Lyon’s body.
Lyon faces more treatment, including reconstructive surgeries and physical therapy, Gibran said. “A long road ahead,” as she described it in an interview.
“He’s going to be doing exercises all day, every day, for the next four to six months,” she said.
For 23 hours a day, he will wear a custom-made mask and elasticized clothing that put pressure on scars to keep them from getting worse.
But he’s “right on target” to improve — and to overcome his injuries, Gibran said. Being young, healthy and very fit helps. His mental outlook is good, too, she said. He remembers some things about the accident, and not others, she added.
“I would not want to say that there is anything that he will not be able to do, if he puts his mind to it,” Gibran said.
“I can’t climb mountains, but I can climb hills,” Lyon told reporters. “It felt great walking outside today feeling the fresh air.” He said he felt stiff, but hasn’t suffered too much pain.
He added that he couldn’t wait to get home to see his dog, Ozark, and to get outside.
Not being independent will be hard, he said, adding that “right now, my hands are my biggest struggle.”
Lyon, who was stationed in Twisp, Okanogan County, at the time of the accident, and had just finished training to become a reserve police officer in Milton, Pierce County, said he hopes to recover enough to pursue a career in law enforcement.
The accident occurred during Washington’s worst fire season on record, with 1,541 blazes, including 1,084 caused by humans and 457 by lightning. In addition to the deaths and Lyon’s injuries, wildfires destroyed at least 146 homes and damaged 476 others. All told, it cost an estimated $319.6 million to fight the wildfires, according to a report by Gov. Jay Inslee, who sought federal aid for the disaster.
Since he was hurt, Lyon has been flooded with well-wishes, including cards, letters and emails from people across the state and around the world.
His parents, Dan and Barbara Lyon, of Puyallup, who joined him at the news conference, said they were pleased to finally see their son go home.
“He’s taught us that anything is possible,” said Dan Lyon Sr. “With hard work, anything’s possible.”