YAKIMA, Wash. (AP) - A Washington state firefighter who suffered
severe burns in the deadly Thirty Mile fire two years ago has
returned to fighting fires for the U.S. Forest Service.
Jason Emhoff, 23, serves on a five-person engine crew that drove
a pumper truck to San Bernardino, Calif., where strong winds pushed
fires toward the resort towns of Big Bear and Lake Arrowhead.
Thousands of people remained evacuated there Thursday.
Emhoff called home to Yakima on Wednesday night to check in
before things "heated up," said Steve Emhoff, his father.
"He's very, very experienced in the woods, and he's just always
been taught if you fall of the horse, you get back on," the elder
Emhoff said.
Jason Emhoff suffered spot burns over 37 percent of his body,
including his face, neck, hands and legs, in the Thirty Mile fire
in the North Cascades on July 10, 2001.
The fire, started by an abandoned campfire, trapped 14
firefighters and two campers in the narrow Chewuch River canyon in
the Okanogan National Forest. Four Washington state firefighters
died.
A Forest Service investigation afterward concluded that fire
bosses and managers broke basic safety rules of firefighting and
disregarded numerous warning signs of danger.
Steve Emhoff said his son returned to light duty for the Forest
Service last year, often working as a safety coordinator. He
returned to fighting fires full time this year in Washington and
California, and his crew also aided in the search following the
breakup of the shuttle Columbia over Texas on Feb. 1.
"He's a good, all-around kid," Emhoff said, pointing to a
photograph of Jason and a friend, both wearing firefighting gear,
taken about two weeks before the Thirty Mile fire.
"I had no concerns whatsoever about him returning. He's an
eagle scout, he's an EMT, he's very conscious of his
surroundings," his father said. "He knows what happened that day
at the Thirty Mile fire. As far as I'm concerned, he's not going to
let those circumstances surround him again."
Jason recovered from his injuries with very few scars, full use
of his badly burned hands and in overall "excellent" shape, Steve
Emhoff said. He will likely stay with the Forest Service for many
years, Emhoff said.
Jason Emhoff has received several telephone messages from
reporters. He did not return a call Thursday.
"He doesn't want to make a big deal about it," his dad said.

(Copyright 2003 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)