An Oregon man severely burned in an August garage fire returned home to Oregon Monday—just in time for Christmas.
With the aid of a walker and some help from friends and family, Thomas Jones, 25, climbed up the stairs at his parent's home on S. Fifth Street as his mom smiled and his dog eagerly watched from inside, his tail wagging furiously.
When asked for a quick photo for the local newspaper, Thomas, a volunteer fireman, said "sure" and then posed with fiancé, Chelsy Janssen and other family members on the home's back porch.
"We're very glad to see him come home. We're excited, we've been waiting a long time," said Jones' niece Beth Bohms who made the trip back to Oregon from Florida for Christmas.
Bohms was one of nearly 200 people who braved chilly temperatures and lined Ill. 64 by the fire station holding handmade signs as Oregon Engine #9 escorted the car Jones and Janssen were riding in across the Rock River bridge, past the burned garage, and then to his parents' rental home.
Friends and family stood across the front driveway of the fire station each holding a letter that spelled "Welcome Home TJ".
Anna Withers, age 8, and her sister Toni, age 4, stood by their sign "Welcome Home Thomas, Merry Christmas" at the corner of Ill. 64 and Second Street.
"We're friends through the fire department," said their mom, Janice.
Jones suffered burns over 85 percent of his body in an Aug. 20 fire at his parents' home. He was working on a demolition derby car in the garage behind the home at 406 S. Eighth St. when the explosion and fire occurred.
According to witnesses, Jones was engulfed in flames when neighbors came to his aid, wrapping him in a blanket to extinguish the flames.
The explosion ignited the garage and house. The garage was destroyed and the house sustained major damage.
Janssen, 22, was also burned on her hands, arms, and face as she attempted to help him. She then broke windows in the house and rescued two dogs that were still inside the home.
She was treated for burns on her arms and later released from the hospital.
Jones was flown by React helicopter to St. Anthony Medical Center where he remained until being transferred to the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago on Nov. 21 for specialized therapy.
His "out date" was originally scheduled for Dec. 27, but he told his mother, Penny, in November: "Mom, I'll be home for Christmas."
The Oregon Fireman's Association has donated $25,000 to the couple which included two fundraisers that brought in $14,000 of that total.
An account has also been set up for Thomas and Chelsy at Community State Bank of Oregon.
Donations may be dropped off at the bank on the corner of Washington (Ill. 64) and Fourth (Ill. 2) Streets, or mailed to Jones/Janssen Benefit Account, Community State Bank, PO Box 399, Oregon, IL 61061.