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Dolan Fire firefighter continues recovery from extreme burns nearly three years later

Posted at 9:22 AM, Apr 07, 2023

When the final flames of the 2020 Dolan Fire were extinguished, 125,000 acres of land had burned, including several homes and buildings.

One of those structures was the Nacimiento Fire Station that U.S. Forest Service Fire Captain Casey Allen and his crew were defending in September of 2020. Allen suffered severe burns across nearly half his body, including his hands and feet, which resulted in the amputation of some toes and fingers.

Casey has been seeking care for his wounds ever since. It wasn’t until the start of this year, over 2.5 years after the fire, that his recovery made substantial strides after he was introduced to a local doctor.

“After that half hour, people's shelters were delaminating and saying that they needed to get to a place with a little cooler atmosphere," said Allen of his near-death experience in the Dolan Fire. "So I said, Let's do it.”

Just one year from retirement, Captain Allen nearly lost his life fighting the Dolan Fire in Monterey County.

In the early morning hours of September 8th, 2020, Allen and his crew were defending the Nacimiento Fire Station when they were overcome by fire. The group deployed their fire shelters and took cover. When they decided to move to a safer spot, disaster happened.

“I stumbled and fell into the fire," said Allen. "My guys found me laying up against a tree. They picked me up, and they carried me out of there, even though I kept stumbling and falling.”

Allen was airlifted to a burn center in Fresno; his body covered with 2nd and 3rd degree burns.

"I didn't actually, really, know anything. I could talk to him, but he was incoherent due to medication,” said Tina Allen, Casey Allen's wife, of her husband for the first weeks following the incident.

An isolated, seven-week stay in Fresno in the midst of the pandemic was just the start of a long and painful recovery.

Over the past 2.5 years, the Allens took countless train rides to Goleta from their current home in Pismo Beach to see plastic surgeons and wound care specialists. Minor progress was made on his burns during that time.

Then, Dr. Steve Sabo and his hyperbaric chamber entered the equation. A wound care specialist and owner of Central Coast Wound Care and Hyperbarics in Pismo Beach, Dr. Sabo facilitated major improvements for Casey’s burns.

“Hyperbarics is a way of waking up the tissue. For non-healing wounds such as Casey’s, you are hyper-oxygenating the red blood cells, as well as giving oxygen dissolved in the plasma, the fluid of the blood," said Dr. Sabo. “It's a real honor to take care of Casey, someone that's given back to our community so much.”

For nearly 50 days since the start of the year, Casey spent roughly two hours each day in the 100% oxygen-ladened hyperbaric chamber. Luckily, entertainment was an option.

“Designated survivor. Other than that, it's just Seinfeld, " said Allen with a smirk.

The process has completely changed Casey’s quality of life for the better, but some things he used to do aren’t in the cards just yet.

“I miss being in the ocean,” said Allen.

A return to our blue ocean could be in the near future, but for now, no surfing just yet.

“Maybe I'll just have to boogie board. I don't know. My balance isn't what it used to be. We'll just have to wait and see when we get out there; as long as I can just walk on the beach in my bare feet." said Allen. "There will be no hang ten.”

Once he gets the okay to head back into the water, Casey would like to get involved with Ampsurf, a local organization that gives people with disabilities, veterans, and first responders adaptive surf therapy, along with other outdoor activities.

WARNING: Images of Casey Allen's injuries are graphic in nature and may be unsettling to some viewers. If you would like to see photos of some of Casey’s injuries shortly after the fire, click here. If you would like to see the progress Casey has made since starting hyperbaric treatment, click here.