MARION, Va. - A local firefighter who was badly burned after a high school bonfire exploded is sharing his story.
We sat down with Marion, Virginia volunteer firefighter Chase Hopkins Thursday as he told us how quickly tragedy struck.
Chase is in good spirits and looking much more like himself in just a very few days since the explosion. He doesn't even look like the same guy when you compare the before and after photos.
The annual bonfire at Marion High School is always started with a flare. This year, that is a split second Chase will never forget. "He struck the flare and boom, it flashed right up. At that point I realized I was on fire," he recalled. "I turned and ran, or jumped, or flung myself or something. I stopped, dropped and rolled and went to beating myself a little bit until I got myself out. When I came to I was face down in a ditch, burning like crazy."
The fire on Chase was out, but his second degree burns were causing his severe pain to his face, neck, chest back and both arms.
Despite the continuing pain, Chase is in good spirits and keeping a positive outlook. "I am just waiting to heal up day by day. Stuff happens," he said. "I laid in that ditch and prayed for the good Lord to take care of me."
Another firefighter was actually standing on top of the burn pile on some pallets before the explosion. He ended up unharmed on the train tracks behind the site.
Chase woke up in the ditch after he had stopped, dropped and rolled. He says his eyesight was protected by some gear that isn't standard issue from the department. "I always wear sunglasses and I had them on. The doctors at Wake Forest said that was what spared my eyes, was the fact that I had my sunglasses on," he said.
Chase owns a landscaping business and has friends and family helping him out as they can. He wants his customers to understand that he would much rather be working than recovering at home and will be back to work as soon as possible.