Of the Baker City Herald

To Jason Staten the tragedy, as fresh in his mind as the stitches that bind his wounds, seemed to have lasted no more than a second.

It was Friday afternoon, just after 4 o'clock Pacific time.

Staten, 20, of Baker City, was sitting in the rear seat of a 15-passenger van, one of 11 firefighters in the vehicle en route to the biggest blaze in the state's history.

A few feet away, on the same bench seat, sat Staten's best friend, Bart Bailey, also 20.

Jason and Bart grew up together in Baker City. They graduated from Baker High School in 2000. They recently finished their sophomore year at Oregon State University, where both are engineering majors Jason in mechanical, Bart in civil.

And they fought fires together.

This is the buddies' second summer working for Grayback Forestry Consulting, which supplies firefighters for the U.S. Forest Service and other government agencies.

Colorado's Hayman fire was Jason and Bart's first assignment this year.

The van had pulled back onto the freeway after a rest stop just a few minutes before, and Jason was settling into his seat, getting comfortable, preparing for a nap.

Then he felt the van swerve.

andquot;We were just tumbling,andquot; Jason said. andquot;It happened in just an instant.andquot;

When the van finished its fourth and final roll, four of its 11 occupants had suffered fatal injuries.

Jason, who was not wearing his seat belt, walked away with cuts on his hands and wrists, his back scraped raw.

But it's his heart that really hurts.

Bart sustained a severe head injury in the crash. He remains in critical condition.

On Sunday, less than a day after he returned to his parents' Baker City home, Jason talked quietly about his best friend and fellow firefighter.

andquot;He's a great guy,andquot; Jason said. andquot;I've had lots of good discussions with him we talk about future dreams, stuff like that.andquot;

Now Jason's dream is to have just one more of those talks with his best friend.

andquot;We're just praying for a miracle,andquot; said Chuck Staten, Jason's dad.

Chuck and his wife, Nancy, knew their son's job could be dangerous.

But when they worried about him and as parents, of course they did they thought of the dangers of the fire line rather than the freeway.

Except this trip was different.

When Jason learned he was leaving for Colorado Thursday, Nancy said she thought, for the first time in her son's firefighting career, about his journey as well as his destination.

andquot;Before it was just the danger of fighting fire, not necessarily the travel, that we worried about,andquot; Nancy said. andquot;But on Thursday I just felt something about traveling, driving. I was a little more nervous about that. I don't know why. Maybe mother's instinct.andquot;

Even so, when the chaplain from Valley View Hospital in Glenwood Springs, Colo., called the Staten home Friday evening and told Chuck and Nancy that Jason was safe, with only minor injuries, Nancy said her first thought was that he had been hurt fighting the Hayman fire.

andquot;It took a while to sink in that it wasn't a fire accident, it was a vehicle accident,andquot; she said.

The chaplain was quite compassionate and helpful, Nancy said, and arranged for the Statens to speak with Jason not long after that initial call.

The couple said they were grateful for the chaplain's help; otherwise their first hint of the tragedy might have come from a television news report.

Once they knew Jason was OK, the Statens spent much of the next day and a half on the telephone, calling relatives across the region to relay Jason's condition, in between fielding calls from well-wishers.

andquot;People have been praying all over, for everyone involved,andquot; Nancy said.

andquot;It's really nice to live in a community where there's that kind of support,andquot; Chuck said.

While he heals, Jason is planning his future.

It includes fighting fires.

andquot;Everyone knows it's dangerous,andquot; he said. andquot;With this company I always feel very safe.andquot;

Chuck said he and Nancy discussed Jason's possible plans even before he returned from Colorado.

They expected he would want to continue doing the work he learned to love last summer.

Letting him go will not be easy, they admit.

But then, that part of a parent's job never is.

andquot;As a parent, any time you let them go on a job like this you're placing them in God's hands,andquot; Chuck said.

andquot;Plus,andquot; Nancy said. andquot;It's what he wants to do.andquot;

Or, as Jason might say, what andquot;theyandquot; want to do.

He and Bart.