Firefighter Daniel Lyon Improving After Being Badly Burned in Deadly Wildfire

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By Phil Helsel

A Washington state firefighter badly burned in an accident during a fire that killed three of his comrades has made some progress, and his doctor is hopeful he will make a full recovery.

Daniel Lyon, 25, was in serious condition the burn unit at Harborview Medical Center in Seattle on Tuesday, almost two weeks after their vehicle crashed and was overtaken by flames while battling a fire near Twisp on Aug. 19.

"He is now a lot more responsive. He has been able to come off the breathing machine, which was I think a big step for all of us, and we’re very grateful for that," Dr. Tam Pham, a physician at the UW Medicine Regional Burn Center at Harborview, told reporters Tuesday.

"He is intermittently awake and interacted with our team and with his family, and that’s great news,” Pham said.

Firefighters Tom Zbyszewski, 20, Andrew Zajac, 26, and Richard Wheeler, 31, died. Lyon suffered burns to 60 percent of his body, Pham said.

Related: Resources Falling Short as Washington Wildfire Grows to Historic Monster

Lyon has had three surgeries so far, and the process of skin grafts could start next week, Pham said. He is expected to stay at the hospital for two months, but will need rehabilitation after that. The skin is a major barrier to infection, so until those grafts occur "he’s in a very vulnerable situation," Pham said.

"We want every one of our patients to make a full recovery, and I think that is achievable with Daniel," he said.

Lyon’s parents said letters, emails, and an outpouring of support for their son has been a great comfort to Daniel Lyon as well as his parents. Daniel Lyon is unable to say much and is medicated, but has motioned "more" when his mother, Barbara, reads the letters.

Lyon’s father, also named Daniel, shared a funny moment when his son was given a chip of ice.

"The first one shot back out of his mouth. The second one, he goes, 'This is the absolutely the best ice cube that I’ve ever had in my life’ — and that was impressive," the elder Lyon said with a laugh.

"The progress seems slow, but when I look back from the first day to today, it is immense," he said.

The Twisp last month merged with another major fire, the Okanogan Complex, a group of five fires burning near the north-central town of Omak.

The fire, which started on Aug. 15, covered more than 144,100 acres Tuesday and was 40 percent contained, the U.S. Forest Service said. The fire covered more than 258,000 acres last week, and is the biggest in the history of Washington state.

Lyon was in his first year as a woodland firefighter when he was burned. He is also a reserve police officer in Milton, Washington. His parents said the letters from well-wishers and prayers for their son's recovery have been a comfort to them as well.

"Everybody’s concern and prayers have helped us too," Lyon's father said. "It’s been important for him, but it’s really important for us too, to know that everybody cares."

Daniel Lyon, 25, is seen in this photo distributed by his family. The firefighter was badly burned while fighting a wildfire near Twisp, Washington, on Aug. 19. Three other firefighters died.Courtesy Lyon family