Coroner releases cause of death for 3 firefighters near Twisp; memorial set for Sunday

OKANOGAN, Wash. -- The three U.S. Forest Service firefighters killed in a wildfire near Twisp last week died as a result of smoke inhalation and thermal injuries, or burns to the body, the Okanogan County Coroner's Office said Friday.

The manner of death was listed as an accident.

The three firefighters -- Andrew Zajac, 26, Richard Wheeler, 31, and Tom Zbyszewski, 20 -- were killed on Aug. 19 near Twisp.

Officials said the three died when their truck crashed down a 40-foot embankment as they tried to escape the fast-growing wildfire and flames consumed their vehicle. All three lived in north-central Washington.

Four others were injured.

One of the injured firefighters, Daniel Lyon, remains in critical condition at Harborview Medical Center with burns over 60 percent of his body. The other three injured firefighters have been treated and released.

Lyon, who sat in the rear-left seat of the crashed vehicle, could hold the key for investigators looking into the cause of the accident. But Lyon remains in critical condition at Harborview Medical Center.

A memorial service for the three firefighters will be held Sunday in Wenatchee. Officials say the service will begin at 1 p.m. at the Town Toyota Center.

Officials say there are about 4,500 seats available for the service. But priority seating will be given to family members of the firefighters and agency personnel. The remainder of the space will be available for public seating.

Meanwhile, The National Fallen Firefighters Foundation has set up the Twisp River Fallen Firefighters Fund to help honor the three Okanogan-area firefighters who died. 

Money donated to the fund will go to help the families, friends and colleagues of the men who died trying to protect this state. Money will also go to the survivors of the blaze, as they could need help for years to come.

Donated funds will be used to help the survivors and coworkers as they begin to rebuild their lives and support the programs and services they will need, promised Chief Ronald Siarnicki, executive director of the National Fallen Firefighters Foundation.

For more on the Twisp River Fallen Firefighters Fund, click here.