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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Names of firefighters killed in Twisp released

The three firefighters killed Wednesday in Twisp were Tom Zbyszewski, 20, Andrew Zajac, 26 and Richard Wheeler, 31. All three were U.S. Forest Service firefighters. The three men were killed after a vehicle they were driving in crashed and was enveloped by flames. Another firefighter, Daniel Lyon, 25, was critically injured and is being treated at Harborview Medical Center in Seattle. He arrived at the hospital last night with burns to approximately 60 percent of his body, the hospital said in a statement. “We are mourning the loss of Tom, Andrew, and Richard and are in connection with and closely monitoring the recovery process of Daniel,” Mike Williams, Forest Supervisor on the Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest, said in a news release. “This was a tragic incident, and our hearts go out to their families, friends, and colleagues.” Fire officials were investigating the disaster Thursday but gave few details, shedding no light, for example, on the crash, other than to say that it was not the accident itself that killed the victims, but the fire. Three other firefighters injured in the same incident have been released from the hospital, Department of Natural Resources spokeswoman Carrie McCausland said. The deaths happened in the scenic Methow River valley about 175 miles northwest of Spokane, where a series of blazes covering close to 140 square miles had merged. The flames burned an undetermined number of homes and triggered orders to about 1,300 people in the outdoor-recreation communities of Twisp and Winthrop to evacuate. Zajac lived in Winthrop, Washington, a few miles northwest of Twisp. He spent four months hiking the Pacific Crest Trail from Canada to California in the summer of 2013, according to his Facebook page. Zbyszewski was a Whitman College student from Carlton, Washington and was in his first season as a firefighter on a U.S. Forest Service crew, according to the Whitman College Pioneer. He was a junior physics major who was active in the college’s theater department, according to a college-wide email sent Thursday. David Dinsmore worked with Zbyszewski as a summer lifeguard in Twisp and said his friend was warm, caring and easy to get to know. “Tom was the kind of guy that if you found yourself sitting and talking with him you would be spilling your guts before you knew it,” he wrote in an email. He said Zbyszewski loved to make his friends at the pool laugh. Sometimes, he’d put on women’s sunglasses and do an Elton John impersonation, singing songs until his friends were crying from laughter. But he also spoke about wanting to be a firefighter to help people. “That’s the Tom I will always remember and want everyone else to recognize … Tom’s summer jobs were lifeguard and firefighter and that was no fluke, this man really cared about other people and was always quick to offer a helping hand to strangers and friends,” he wrote.
Information from the Associated Press was included in this report.
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