By Vinde Wells
An Oregon man who was severely burned a year ago while working on a car for the demolition derby will be back in the race on Saturday.
When they rev up their engines Aug. 3 for the demolition derby at the Ogle County Fair, Thomas Jones, 26, will be one of the drivers.
Little less than a year ago, his participation so soon seemed out of the question.
Jones, who is an Oregon volunteer firefighter, suffered mostly third degree burns over 85 to 90 percent of his body on Aug. 20, 2012 in an explosion and fire.
After months in the hospital and a rehabilitation center, followed by weeks of intense physical therapy, Jones said he is glad to be back doing what he enjoys, working on another car to drive at the fair.
“I’m very much looking forward to it,” he said July 25. “I just took it for its first test drive yesterday.”
Getting the car ready for the demolition derby has made Jones feel more like he is back to normal.
“It makes me feel a lot more back to where I was before the accident,” he said.
Jones had been working on a demolition derby car in the detached garage behind the home where he lives with his parents, Mick and Penny Jones, at 406 S. Eighth St., Oregon, last August when the fire occurred.
He was using a torch to cut the straps holding the gas tank when it exploded.
Neighbors said Jones was engulfed in fire when one of them grabbed a blanket and wrapped it around him to the extinguish the flames.
He was airlifted to OSF Saint Anthony Medical Center, Rockford, in critical condition.
Jones’ fiancee, Chelsy Jannsen, 23, Mt. Morris, was also burned when she tried to help him. She was released from the hospital a few days later.
The garage was destroyed, and the house sustained fire, water, and smoke damage.
Jones remained at St. Anthony for three months, undergoing numerous skin grafts and battling infections.
After his release from the hospital, he went to a rehabilitation center in Chicago for a month, and arrived back home a few days before Christmas with a fire department escort.
Family, friends, and well-wishers lined the streets of Oregon to welcome him back.
“I really appreciate the people of Oregon,” Jones said. “It made me feel real good to see the town behind me when I came home.”
Also welcoming him home was his dog Charleston, who Jones said hasn’t left his side since.
After getting home, Jones still faced four months of physical therapy.
At every step, however, he surprised doctors by accomplishing recovery goals sooner than expected.
“I only needed about half of what they thought I would,” he said.
“He’s a very determined young man,” said his mother Penny with a smile.
Jones said his doctor has released him to resume normal activities, and he’s currently looking for a job.
He had worked at E.D. Etnyre Company, Oregon, prior to the accident.
“I’m doing well. I’m able to do pretty much everything I could before,” he said.
He and Jannsen are planning to get married next July.
“I want to continue on with life and get back to all the plans I had before this happened,” Jones said.