Video: FF burned in Calif. wildfire released from hospital after 114 days, 17 surgeries

Orange County Fire Authority Firefighter Dylan Van Iwaarden was transferred to a rehabilitation facility on Wednesday to continue his recovery

Eric Licas
The Orange County Register

ORANGE COUNTY, Calif. — A firefighter enveloped by flames while battling the Silverado fire east of Irvine in October relearned how to walk and talk after months in treatment and was released from OC Global Medical Center in Santa Ana on Wednesday, Feb. 17, to continue his rehabilitation at another facility.

Dozens of first-responders and medical staff cheered as Orange County Fire Authority personnel wheeled firefighter Dylan Van Iwaarden, 26, from the doors of OC Burn Center at OC Global Medical Center to an ambulance bound for UCI Medical Center. He may spend another month in recovery there before he has healed enough to return home, charge nurse Stephanie Meagrow said.

She was a member of the team that oversaw Van Iwaarden's care, and said he was fighting for his life when he was rushed to treatment on Oct. 26. More than 65% of his body was burned, and it took about two months for him to regain the ability to speak, Meagrow said.

"He fought, and he did incredible," Meagrow said. "It inspired us every single day."


Handcrew Firefighter Dylan Van Iwaarden released from the hospital

Posted by Orange County Fire Authority on Wednesday, February 17, 2021

Van Iwaarden spent 114 days at the OC Burn Center before he was transferred to UCI on Wednesday. He spent time in a medically induced coma, and underwent 17 surgeries, OCFA officials said in a news release. Doctors took samples from the few patches of viable skin left on his body to grow grafts that would replace what had been destroyed by fire, Meagrow said. Over time, he taught himself to walk again.

"Every single day we gave him a new goal, and he did it," Meagrow said. "He accomplished it, and he never complained. He was always checking boxes and making progress."

"It was a tragic event, but I'm getting better," Van Iwaarden told reporters Wednesday. "And I'm going to be back there. I'm excited to help serve the citizens in Orange County."

Van Iwaarden and one other firefighter who was badly hurt while trying to contain the Silverado fire, Phi Le, 31, were part of a hand crew dispatched along hills north of Limestone Canyon Regional Park, near East Santiago Canyon Road, according to an OCFA report on the events that left them in critical condition. Gusts of 42 mph and 8% relative humidity were reported in the area. Winds were strong enough to snuff out the torches they were using to burn dry brush and other potential fuels in the path of a blaze that ultimately consumed over 13,000 acres.

Several spot fires ignited spontaneously nearby while they worked, so Van Iwaarden, Le and six other members of their team were assigned to help tackle those, the OCFA's report said. They were approaching a flareup that had grown to about 100 square feet in a matter of between 5 and 10 seconds, when another patch of flames was spotted downhill, upwind, and rapidly approaching them.

"Get out of there, there's a spot!," a member of Van Iwaarden's team shouted as two separate walls of fire bore down on them, the report said. Firefighters who managed to outrun the flames escaped with singed hair and eyebrows.

However, Van Iwaarden and Le were caught and injured by fast-moving fire.

Signs of trauma were still visible on Van Iwaarden's face as he appeared to smile behind his mask in front of clapping hospital staff and television cameras Wednesday. Bandages were wrapped around his arms and most of his hands as he hugged Meagrow before leaving the hospital.

"In the beginning, when the injuries were so bad, obviously, there were a couple of times we were nervous," Meagrow said. "But we never let the fear take over."

Le was earlier released from the OC Burn Center, and was discharged to outpatient care after a brief stint at UCI on Dec. 22, Orange County Fire Authority Capt. Thanh Nguyen. He was continuing his rehabilitation from home as of Wednesday.

The Silverado fire forced thousands to evacuate and filled the sky with smoke and ash. It burned for a week by the time it was mostly contained in early November. The cause of the fire remained under investigation, Nguyen said.


(c)2021 The Orange County Register (Santa Ana, Calif.)

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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