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Oregon man injured in garage explosion

An Oregon man who is also a volunteer firefighter was severely burned in an explosion and fire around 5 p.m. Monday at his home.

Thomas Jones, 25, suffered burns over 85 percent of his body, said Oregon Fire Chief Don Heller.

The Oregon Ambulance immediately transported Jones to Hawk Drive, a few blocks west of Jones' home, where the React helicopter landed and transported him to OSF Saint Anthony Medical Center in Rockford.

He was listed in critical condition on Tuesday.

While trying to help him, his girlfriend, Chelsy Janssen, 22, Oregon, suffered second degree burns to her hands, arms, and forehead, Heller said.

She was transported by Byron ambulance to Rockford Memorial Hospital, and later transferred to St. Anthony where a hospital spokesman said she was listed in fair condition.

The fire destroyed the garage and damaged Jones' nearby home.

Heller said the preliminary investigation indicates Jones was in the detached garage behind his home at 406 S. Eighth St., using a torch to cut underneath a demolition derby car when the gas tank exploded. The state fire marshal is assisting with the investigation.

Several neighbors heard the explosion, saw Jones in flames, and came to his assistance.

Fire department chaplain Michael Hoffman said Jeff Parsons, Oregon, who was visiting at Scott and Jodi Whitacre's home next door, grabbed a blanket and wrapped it around Jones to extinguish the flames.

Jodi Whitacre comforted Jones as he lay on the ground, while her daughter called 911, Hoffman said.

Heller, who lives three houses north of Jones, said he heard the explosion and people screaming.

"I got outside and I saw a big black mushroom cloud up above the house," he said.

The garage was fully engulfed when firefighters arrived. The explosion also ignited the house, about half of which sustained fire, water and smoke damage, Heller said.

Siding was damaged on the Whitacre's house to the south.

Jodi Whitacre said Janssen broke windows in the house and rescued two dogs inside. 

Mt. Morris, Polo, Byron, and Stillman Valley Fire Departments assisted at the scene, while Franklin Grove firefighters manned Oregon's fire station.

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