Burned San Diego Firefighter Describes Cheating Death

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SAN DIEGO --

A female firefighter critically burned in the Harris fire returns home and recounts the moments when she thought she would die.

Brooke Linman was cared for at the UCSD Burn Center for three and a half weeks before going home -- at one point she was put into a medically induced coma. This week, she went home to her family and daughter in Mira Mesa, though, and she celebrated a birthday.

"When I came home, I told her, 'I know Mom looks a little funny,' " Linman told NBC 7/39. "She said, 'You look perfect to me.' "

Linman's ear is still healing, as is a burn on her face, which, with the help of donor skin, will grow back. Doctors say her badly burned lungs are now 100 percent.

"I'm a work in progress, but I'm healing," said Linman. "I'm better off than I was three weeks ago -- that's for sure."

Linman and her crew were trying to protect a home in the remote East County community of Potrero when they found themselves in trouble. The crew and 15-year-old Richard Varshock took refuge in a fire truck when the windows exploded.

"There was a moment when I thought, 'I cannot believe I'm going to die in this engine right now,' and then something else clicked in: 'You're not. You're getting out of this engine now,' " Linman said.

Linman got out of the truck and soon was trying to put the fire out on her face and get under her emergency shelter. Then she heard Varshock scream.

"We got into my shelter, and I just wanted to calm him down," Linman told NBC 7/39. "He was severely burned. He kept asking me if we were going to die. I said, 'No, were not going to die.' "

At that point, Linman said, she focused on what she has wanted to do since the age of 7 and dressed up as a firefighter: help others.

As she celebrated her 33rd birthday on Tuesday, she was thankful to all those who have helped her.

"I have a new appreciation -- not just for life but for the people in it," Linman said at the party.

She told the well-wishers at the party that she was thankful to be alive.

"Yeah, this was a birthday that almost didn't happen," she said. "It was a special one. It's going to be a good year."

Like most heroes, Linman said she is not a hero, even when pressed about how remarkable she was saving Varshock. She said she was just doing her job. Linman also said that the real heroes are the people at the burn unit who she said never left her side.

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