Councilman’s son injured fighting wildfire |

Councilman’s son injured fighting wildfire

John Colson

Native Aspenite John Markalunas was seriously injured while fighting a raging forest fire in Wyoming on Sunday, according to his family.

Suffering from second- and third-degree burns on his side, thigh and hands, he was airlifted Tuesday to a burn unit at University Hospitals in Denver for treatment, according to his father, Aspen City Councilman Jim Markalunas.

John Markalunas, 32, is working full-time as a public lands firefighter, his father said Tuesday. He was leading a crew fighting a fire near Encampment, Wyo., when he was injured.

Jim Markalunas said his son’s crew apparently was setting “back fires” when one of the magnesium charges used to ignite the fires went off accidentally. Back fires are a technique used to slow or halt the advance of wildfires, by establishing a line in front of the fire where the brush and other fuel has already been burned.

“He’s doing pretty good,” said the elder Markalunas. “He’s taking it pretty much in stride.”

Members of the Markalunas family were planning to drive to Denver yesterday, but Jim said he would attend a government meeting Tuesday night and then head over to join his family on Wednesday.

According to Jim, the family got a call late Sunday from a hospital in Rawlins, Wyo., informing them of the accident. He said the family was told the burns cover “12-15 percent of his body,” and that “the prognosis for him is good.”

He said his son is on pain medication and antibiotics to fight off infection, noting that “out there on the fire line, they get pretty dirty.”

John is one of four children born to Jim and Ramona Markalunas, and is a third-generation Aspenite. His base of operations is in the Pike National Forest, in the town of Monument, and he has been “all over the country” in recent years fighting fires, his father said.

He added that John has a degree in environmental conservation, and is working toward a graduate degree.

Jim said his son has fought 36 fires so far this season, and is expected to miss the coming fall semester in college because of the number of fires raging out of control all around the West right now.

He said the family has not been told how long John will be out of action while recovering from his injuries, but that he is expected to return to Aspen for the recovery period.

Attempts to reach officials at the fire in Wyoming were not successful

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