OKANOGAN - An Okanogan firefighter who was badly burned in a Sept. 1 wildfire underwent skin graft surgeries Sept. 5 and 6, and continues recovering at Harborview Medical Center.
Christian Johnson, Okanogan Fire Department assistant chief, suffered second- and third-degree burns over 60 percent of his body while on the Spring Coulee Fire. The incident is under investigation by the state Department of Natural Resources and Okanogan County Sheriff’s Office.
Johnson, who was flown from the scene, is in a medically induced coma at Harborview. As of Monday morning, Sept. 9, he was listed in satisfactory condition in the intensive care unit.
Surgery Sept. 5 concentrated on Johnson’s chest and abdomen. The following day’s surgery dealt with his arms, top of hands, shoulder and sides, according to family friend Amy Freel, who organized a gofundme.com page to benefit Johnson and his family.
“The doctor came in smiling after today’s surgery,” said the family, as reported by Freel. “Hopefully Christian will be strong enough for surgery again on Monday or Wednesday” of this week.
Johnson is expected to spend two to three months in the intensive care unit, according to Okanogan County Emergency Management.
His wife, Pam, who works for the Okanogan County Treasurer’s Office, is with him.
Johnson also serves as building official for Okanogan, Tonasket and Oroville, and was scheduled to be temporary building official for Omak after the retirement of Jake Dalton.
On Sept. 3, Okanogan County commissioners approved an interlocal agreement with the four cities for county building inspectors to provide some services. (See related story.)
Cause of the fire and events leading up to Johnson’s injuries are being investigated by DNR and the sheriff’s office.
DNR spokeswoman Janet Pearce said no investigation results are available yet.
Okanogan County Sheriff Tony Hawley said his office is assisting DNR.
Okanogan County Emergency Manager Maurice Goodall said Johnson and another firefighter, who has not been identified, were at the north end of the fire and had were out of their brush truck when Johnson was injured. The other firefighter was not hurt.
Johnson is retired from the Army and Washington National Guard. He was a sergeant in the Army and was deployed with the Guard to Iraq from November 2003 to May 2005.
He has volunteered for the Okanogan Fire Department for 20 years.
An account to help Johnson and his family, the Christian Johnson Donation Account, has been set up at North Cascades Bank, P.O. Box 672, Okanogan, WA 98840.
A second account is at gofundme.com. It can be accessed on that site at “Donations for Assistant Chief Christian Johnson.”
The account, set up by Freel, Okanogan, had a goal of $15,000. As of Sunday, $27,530 in donations had been pledged by 387 donors.
Several donors, including a firefighter who had been burned over 70 percent of his body, left comments on the gofundme.com page.
“I and my whole family understand dearly what you all are about to embark on,” wrote Robert Pratt. “I and my family pray for you and yours.”
Another donor, Donald M. Robinson, wrote that he was burned in an industrial accident.
“I understand the pain and recovery process,” he wrote. “May God watch over you and help in a complete recovery.”
Another comment, from a Spring Coulee resident, said, “We would have rather lost our ranch than have this happen to you or anyone. Thank you for your years of service to others.”
Donations have come from fellow firefighters, current and former co-workers, friends, relatives, a man who served with him in Iraq, fire and accident victims, and a first grade classmate.
Money raised in both accounts will go to help his family with travel, housing, food and other items.
Daniel Lyon, the firefighter who was severely burned in the 2015 Twisp River Fire, also has lent his support to Johnson. He has shared the link to Johnson’s gofundme.com page, and offered to meet with Johnson and his family when the time is right.
Jennifer Zbyszewski, whose son, Tom, was killed in the same incident in which Lyon was injured, donated and also wrote that “we’ll be thinking of you and your family as you travel this difficult road.”
Commissioner of Public Lands Hilary Franz posted on her Facebook page about Johnson’s injuries and asked people to keep him, his family and fellow firefighters in their prayers.
“He faces a long, difficult recovery ahead,” she wrote. “The courage and dedication of our firefighters is easy to overlook and take for granted. This tragic incident is a reminder that our firefighters truly put their lives at risk each time they go out to the fire line.”
Johnson cannot have visitors, but cards may be sent to him at Christian Johnson, c/o Medic One Division, 325 Ninth Ave., Room 2CT99 Box 359727, Seattle, WA 98104.