OKANOGAN - A firefighter who was badly burned in the 2015 Twisp River Fire has appealed the dismissal of his lawsuit seeking damages.
On Aug. 15, paperwork for Daniel Lyon’s appeal was transmitted to the state Court of Appeals for Division 3 by Okanogan County Superior Court. In July, Lyon’s attorneys filed a brief with the state Court of Appeals arguing the professional rescue doctrine, which mostly bars claims such as his, violates the state Constitution.
Lyon was the only survivor among four firefighters whose truck plunged off Woods Canyon Road on Aug. 19, 2015, during the Twisp River Fire. He was burned over 70 percent of his body.
Fellow firefighters Richard “Rick” Wheeler, 31; Andrew Zajac, 26, and Thomas Nelson Zbyszewski, 20, died.
Lyon is seeking damages from the Okanogan County Electric Cooperative and Douglas County Public Utility District.
The firefighter, of Stevensville, Mont., alleged in his original lawsuit, filed in June 2018, that the fire was ignited when tree branches contacted an electrical line owned and maintained by the co-op.
On Nov. 29, 2018, Lyon’s case was dismissed by Okanogan County Superior Court Judge Chris Culp, who cited the professional rescuer doctrine as barring Lyon’s claims.
Under that doctrine, a firefighter who is injured in the line of duty generally is prevented from suing the person who created the hazard which necessitated the firefighter’s presence at the place where he or she was injured, according to court documents.
Lyon sought to strike down the doctrine as unconstitutional or establish a new exception to it.
In June 2019, Lyon filed an amended complaint against the co-op and PUD, arguing that the fire was preventable.
“In the midst of hot, arid conditions and historic drought the Twisp River Fire was ignited when tree branches contacted a high-voltage distribution owned and maintained” by the co-op, said the amended complaint. It alleged the co-op “recklessly, wantonly and/or intentionally failed to maintain the right of way its distribution lines passed through. As a consequence, trees which should have been at least 15 feet from the lines actually had grown into contact with them.”
An appeal also was filed in June.
A report, issued Dec. 16, 2016, by the U.S. Forest Service and state Department of Natural Resources, said the fire was caused by a tree branch rubbing on an electrical wire.
Crews from the Forest Service, DNR and Okanogan County Fire District No. 6 all responded to the fire, which broke out while firefighters countywide already were battling the Okanogan Complex, Tunk Block and North Star fires. The Twisp River Fire was rolled into the Okanogan Complex administratively.
In a separate incident the same day as the Lyon crew’s entrapment, farther up the dead-end Woods Canyon Road, DNR firefighters Donald Smith and Reed Callis, and contractor Cutter Rains were trapped and rode out the flames in fire shelters. They sustained minor injuries.
Several homes were lost to the fire.
Lyon is represented on appeal by attorneys Stephen Louis Bulzomi, Kenneth Wendell Masters and James Wesley McCormick.