A firefighter who was pinned under a massive oak tree for several minutes Friday while battling a small wildland fire in Tulare County underwent the first of two major surgeries Saturday, California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection reported.
Cal Fire spokesman Ryan Michaels said that Damien Pereira, 25, of San Luis Obispo County was in good spirits and surrounded by family and fellow firefighters while recovering at Community Regional Medical Center in downtown Fresno. Doctors worked several hours Saturday morning to repair broken vertebrae, and a second surgery is planned for later in the week to address his broken ribs and bruised internal organs.
Michaels said Pereira will stay in the hospital for at least the next week before returning home, where he will undergo a long rehabilitation process for his injuries.
The oak tree, which was 36 inches in diameter, fell on Pereira late Friday afternoon, Michaels said. Cal Fire Tulare County firefighters were in the final stages of extinguishing a 2-acre fire reported around 2 p.m. at Case Mountain near Three Rivers.
After the tree fell, other firefighters immediately rushed to help Pereira, Michaels said. Several used chainsaws to cut the massive tree into more manageable pieces before lifting it off Pereira, who was then airlifted to the hospital.
Investigators are still working to determine what caused the tree to fall on Pereira.
Two inmate firefighters from the California Department of Corrections also sustained minor injuries when branches from the tree fell on them. They were treated at a local hospital.
Michaels did not know exactly what town Pereira is from, but he said that Pereira transferred to Tulare County about two years ago. He was a Cal Fire firefighter in his native San Luis Obispo County unit prior to that. He commutes from San Luis Obispo County.
Pereira’s wife, child and much of his family flocked to his hospital bedside from cities throughout the central San Joaquin Valley and central coast. Cal Fire and local firefighter unions are working to provide hotel rooms, rides and meals for this group — most of whom aren’t from the Fresno area.
Robert Lewin, chief of Cal Fire in San Luis Obispo, said he and Battalion Chief Geoff Money were notified of the injury and visited Pereira’s wife.
Lewin called Pereira’s injury “a very tough situation. We will continue to provide whatever support we can to the family,” he said.