PASADENA, Calif. -- A 17-year-old who was severely burned in a dune buggy incident is not giving up on her dreams of becoming a firefighter.
America Salmeron is described as a "warrior" and a leader in the Pasadena Fire Department's Explorer program to train the next generation of firefighters.
America was recently riding a dune buggy in the Nevada desert when the vehicle flipped over and immediately caught on fire.
She managed to pull herself out just before the dune buggy exploded, saying she was motivated by the thought of seeing her family again.
She sustained second and third-degree burns to over 50% of her body. She's now in a hospital facing a long road to recovery.
"When I felt the heat after it flipped over, I told myself this was the end," she recalled, her voice a whisper in a Zoom interview with Eyewitness News. "But then I said I can't just sit here. I managed to get out."
"My family was the first thing I thought of. I needed to see them one more time."
America graduated high school this year. Her fire department family back home is supporting her in her recovery and can't wait for her to resume her path toward becoming a firefighter.
"She was in a very tragic situation and she fought tooth and nail to get herself out of it and that is just a testament of who she is," said Pasadena fire Capt. Arno Avakian. "She is a princess warrior."
Members of the Pasadena Fire Department have started a GoFundMe to help America and her family cover the costs of her long-term medical care.
The accident hasn't dampened America's determination to become a firefighter.
"A lot of females are not in this career and I wanted to be one," she says. "I am not going to sugarcoat anything and say I don't have my bad days. I do. I get negative sometimes. At the end of the day what can I do? I just got to keep pushing."
America's mother is by her side, supporting her in her recovery efforts.
"I want her to keep going," says Martha Lara. "We have to be strong. No matter what happens, we are going to make it."