Man Who Barely Escaped Elk, WA Fire Expected To Recover
One of the survivors of the Oregon Road Fire, north of Spokane, is eagerly waiting to get home to his family in Elk.
When the fire struck August 18, Justin Knutson was told to evacuate immediately.
"I punched it with my truck. I probably hit 50-60 miles an hour through that black smoke and the real horror started when I went into the other side of that smoke. I wasn't prepared for that. The fire was completely engulfing the trees."
About 45 seconds later, Knutson lost power to his truck. He had no brakes or steering. He shut the truck down and contemplated what he needed to do next.
"I said to myself you can't sit in this truck. You can't. So, I hopped out. And I started running. I think I got about to the front of my truck and every reflex in my body turned me around. And I remember going to jump back in the truck and I got angry at myself. I was just like, what are you doing?"
Knutson pulled his t-shirt over his mouth and started running with his eyes closed due to the intense heat and smoke.
"I just remember looking down and making sure I was on pavement still. And as I was running, I was screaming as loud as I could," Knutson said. "A second later, I hear beep, beep and then a second later, beep, beep and so I opened my eyes quickly. I didn't see anything in front of me. I turned around and that's when I saw these super faint headlights."
It was Knutson's neighbor. Five seconds later, Knutson says he would have perished.
"I mean at this point I was watching my skin drip off. My skin was melting. And I was watching it drip off my arms. I was watching it drip off my legs. And I had noticed a big chunk was falling off of my face."
Knutson and his neighbor made their escape. He had some last words for her before he sought medical attention.
"I just repeatedly kept telling her that I loved her. I love you. I love you. I love you."
Knutson is currently recovering at the University of Washington School of Medicine. He's in satisfactory condition with burns over 30% of his body.
He feels fortunate his burns have been downgraded to second degree, especially since he stared death in the face.
"It really makes you think about a lot of stuff. I'm just grateful. I'm really grateful. I'm excited to be here. Honestly, I'm excited for the second chance. I'm excited to go home and see my kids."
Knutsen says he's also looking forward to rebuilding. He's a construction worker and owns his own business and says he wants to help everybody who lost their homes in the fire.
***Very special thanks to Randy Carnell, UW Medicine and the University of Washington School of Medicine for all their work on this story. To see entire interview with Knutson, click here****