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Group pays for family expenses of burned firefighter

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SEATTLE -- At a concert in Enumclaw benefitting the Wildland Firefighter Foundation Sunday, Director Burk Minor got a call about an Okanogan County fire chief that was badly burned in the Spring Coulee Fire.

"I was ready to go on stage with 10,000 people and a burn survivor right next to me and getting the call about another one, it took me back to ground zero with that," Minor said.

Christian Johnson suffered second- and third-degree burns to at least half of his body. He's the assistant chief of Okanogan County Fire District 3. Investigators don't yet know how he was burned. The fire was contained within 90 minutes and burned about 150 acres.

The burn survivor Minor was next to at the time of the call was Daniel Lyon, the Twisp River Fire survivor who recently carried the Wildland Firefighter Foundation to the top of Mount Rainier on the week that marked four years since his own tragedy.

Now, another Washington firefighter is clinging on in critical condition at Harborview Medical Center, where Lyon lay four years ago.

Minor said he has been in constant contact with Johnson's wife, Pam.

"They don't really know what's going on and what to expect and unfortunately, we do," he said. "We know what they're in for and those are tough conversations."

In these critical first few days, the foundation is providing support to the family and paying for hotels and food so they can stay nearby and help Johnson through his recovery.

Lyon credits the foundation with playing a critical role in his own recovery and now he will play a role in Johnson's.

"As soon as [Christian] gets a little more coherent after these first few surgeries, I've got Daniel on standby," Minor said.

When Lyon was where Johnson is now, burn survivor Brendan Mullen visited him. Tending to a prescribed burn in Mississippi, Mullen lived through a helicopter crash that killed his comrades.

"He came in and visited me and he said, 'Daniel, how are you doing today?'" Lyon recalled. "I said, 'I'm not doing good at all. This sucks. I've never been in so much excruciating pain.' I said, 'everything hurts.' I think I started crying. And I said, 'We've lost our buddies. Life sucks right now, this is really bad. I never thought life can be this brutal.'

Mullen replied.

"He said, 'Daniel, let me tell you a story that my father used to always tell: The story of being forged by fire."

In that conversation, Mullen told him how a blacksmith makes a beautiful sword by submerging metal into the fire and then beating on it, like the burns and recovery beat on Lyon's body.

"That's just like what God or whatever higher power you believe in does to our lives," Lyon said. "He sticks us in the fire, he pulls us out, he pounds on us."

"But what it's actually doing is forging us by fire into the incredible people that we are and being able to share the incredible stories that we have now," Lyon continued.

Now, it'll be Lyon's turn to share those stories with Johnson.

"You can't help but be in their situation and wonder what's tomorrow going to be like; what's next week going to bring; are the scars ever going to go away; when I get in public, are people going to look at me funny?" Minor said. "These are all things that go through their mind and it's terrible.

"To bring another burn survivor in there that's got a beautiful smile going on and a zest for life, hopefully it puts a glimmer of hope in these people's lives."

Minor mentioned a way the community can give Johnson hope is by sending letters and cards to Harborview Medical Center to let him know about their support for him during what will be a lengthy recovery.

To donate to the nonprofit Wildland Firefighter Foundation, click here.

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