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Puyallup man’s goals ‘haven’t changed a bit’ despite wildfire accident

Daniel Lyon, who was severely burned in a wildfire in August, stands in front of his parents' Montana home with his dog, Ozark.
Daniel Lyon, who was severely burned in a wildfire in August, stands in front of his parents' Montana home with his dog, Ozark. Photo courtesy of Daniel Lyon

Daniel Lyon couldn’t wait to see his dog, Ozark. And both of them couldn’t wait to finally enjoy some fresh air.

Lyon spent one day shy of three months recovering at Harborview Medical Center in Seattle after suffering third-degree burns on 70 percent of his body. The 25-year-old Puyallup resident was the sole survivor in an accident while fighting a wildfire near Twisp in August. Three of his fellow firefighters — Richard Wheeler, 31; Andrew Zajac, 26; and Tom Zbyszewski, 20 — died in the blaze.

Lyon told The News Tribune that after leaving the hospital he was anxious to get outside and play in the yard with his dog, activities he said most people take for granted.

“I absolutely love the outdoors,” Lyon said in a phone interview from Stevensville, Montana, where he’s staying with his parents. “Being cooped up for that long was extremely hard.”

It was hard for Ozark, too, who waited patiently for Lyon and his family to retrieve him from the kennel where he lived during Lyon’s long hospital stay.

“He was really hyper,” Lyon said of seeing Ozark for the first time. “He was mostly interested in running around.”

The long-awaited reunion was one of the first milestones in what Lyon said has “been a really good transition.”

It definitely feels like I’m making progress.

Daniel Lyon, firefighter severely burned in Twisp wildfire accident.

Still, it hasn’t come without struggles.

After 11 surgeries including skin grafts, Lyon faces skin irritation and difficulty moving each day. Looking in the mirror or seeing the number 19 (Aug. 19 was the date of the accident) remind him of what he’s gone through and the journey that still awaits.

Lyon, who was fresh out of the Milton Police Department’s reserve academy before his accident, faces at least six more months of therapy.

The Rogers High School graduate wakes every day at 6 a.m. to travel to Missoula for five back-to-back therapy sessions, ranging from speech therapy to occupational therapy. The appointments last from 8 a.m. until about 3 p.m.

“It’s pretty much my full-time job now,” he said.

Therapy, however, motivates him and keeps his mind busy, he said.

“It definitely feels like I’m making progress.”

With all the news coverage back home in Puyallup and even where he’s staying in Montana, Lyon said it’s difficult to live a normal life without drawing attention.

He wonders at times what people think when they see him in public, since his appearance has changed and he wears a protective mask.

When looking in the mirror, “I always see a different person than who I was months ago,” Lyon said. “It’s just something that you’ve got to accept.”

His outlook appears positive. He said he remains overwhelmed by the support he’s received, most recently from Montana-based firefighters from the U.S. Forest Service, the agency Lyon was working for at the time of his accident.

Firefighters have visited him regularly and even offer to drive him to therapy, Lyon said.

I think now, more than ever, I want to get back outside and go into law enforcement. I miss it. It’s the best job I’ve had in my life. That’s where my heart is right now.

Daniel Lyon

Lyon’s end goal hasn’t changed: to dedicate his life to a career in law enforcement.

“That was my dream job for a long time,” he said. “And it still is. That hasn’t changed a bit.”

For now, he’s settling in to enjoy a quiet, white Christmas with his family.

After that, his sights are set on regaining his independence and returning to his post as a Milton reserve police officer as soon as possible.

“I think now, more than ever, I want to get back outside and go into law enforcement,” Lyon said. “I miss it. It’s the best job I’ve had in my life. That’s where my heart is right now.”

Kari Plog: 253-597-8682, @KariPlog

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