Wounded warrior helps man burned in bonfire accident

Michael Escamilla holds up a sign from his hospital bed to thank SSgt. David Ortega for help with his recovery after he suffered severe burns in a bonfire accident. (KABB)

SAN ANTONIO - Cellphone video shows Michael Escamilla before a gas tank explosion left him with severe burns across his body. He’s seen kissing his fiancé Bianca Espinosa in their bedroom.

"I was looking at him, just like I usually do, because he's the love of my life," Espinosa recalled.

But before the two could pick a wedding date to tie the knot after 7 years of dating, tragedy struck.

"Everything happened in slow motion, from when he was pouring the gas onto the brush, to hearing the explosion and feeling the backdraft of the heat,” Espinosa said. “To seeing him on fire and stop drop and roll."

A bonfire at their home in Lytle, TX went horribly wrong back on February 11th.

"I thought I lost the love of my life that night," she recalled.

Escamilla's left leg, torso, face and both arms were left with 2nd and 3rd degree burns when a gas tank exploded in his hands. From skin graft surgeries to lung infections, the 31-year-old diesel mechanic continues to fight through a painful recovery.

"They said we're going to have a rollercoaster ride," Espinosa shared about what doctors told them.

And while she remains by his side, Escamilla has been receiving additional help from a stranger as well.

"He has given my fiancé hope," she said.

That brings us to our newest CASH FOR KINDNESS recipient. Espinosa asked SSgt. David Ortega to meet up for some lunch. The wounded warrior had no idea Fox San Antonio would be there as well.

"Oh no!” he said with a surprised look on his face.

“You touched my heart and Michael's heart,” Espinosa told him in a restaurant parking lot. “And we want to thank you from the bottom of our hearts for being there for us. We didn't know what we were going through when we got there. And you came and touched our family's heart. Thank you.”

Ortega and his wife reached out to Espinosa on Facebook after they learned about her fiancé’s injuries.

“When I saw what she wrote on one of our fishing groups, 210 Fishing, I just knew it was the perfect opportunity to give back for everything that people have done for me," the active duty Marine said.

He's visited with Escamilla about half a dozen times in his burn unit to share stories, listen and help keep his spirits high.

“It's all about mentality and getting back to what you love doing,” Ortega explained. “For us, that's fishing. And I knew I'd be the perfect one to help him get back out there on the waters."

Ortega started a non-profit charter boat to take wounded warriors fishing. He’s promised to take Escamilla on it when he gets out of rehab.

Fox San Antonio’s Ryan Wolf showed him a photo Escamilla took to thank him for his friendship. He’s seen holding a sign with his name on it and the words “thank you.”

“That's awesome,” Ortega said with a big smile when he saw it.

“How do you feel seeing that?” Wolf asked him. “It's heartwarming to say the least."

Wolf explained how his kindness would also be rewarded by Fox San Antonio. “Would you put your hand out for me, sir?"

He handed Ortega a stack of money and asked him to count it out loud.

“5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10,” he said. “A thousand dollars! But I don't want it.”

“That's for you,” Wolf repeated.

“I don't want it," Ortega insisted.

He said he sees his volunteer work as a way to pay it forward for the help he received and not something that should be rewarded.

Wolf helped him realize how his kindness has made a powerful impact.

“I'll figure out some way to put this money to good use other than myself,” he told Wolf.

“How do you feel being honored in this way?” Wolf asked.

“Surprised to say the least!” he said while laughing. “I was just coming to eat."

Click here to nominate someone you know for the $1,000 CASH FOR KINDNESS award.


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