Glenwood Springs remembers Storm King 14 on 23rd anniversary
July 6, 2017
We will never forget
Kathi Beck, Tamera Bickett, Scott Blecha, Levi Brinkley, Robert Browning, Doug Dunbar, Terri Hagen, Bonnie Holtby, Rob Johnson, Jon Kelso, Don Mackey, Roger Roth, Jim Thrash, Richard Tyler.
Glenwood Springs takes a collective moment on July 6 every year to honor its pledge never to forget the 14 federal wildland firefighters who lost their lives while defending the town from a fire on Storm King Mountain.
It’s particularly relevant this year, as Colorado is in the midst of one of the worst fire danger seasons the state has seen in several years, with hot and dry conditions forecast for the next several days and little chance of significant rain.
It was on this date 23 years ago that a relatively small fire caused by a lightning strike four days prior turned into a raging inferno whipped up by 40 mph winds from an approaching cold front, yet no rain.
Numerous federal wildland firefighters who had arrived to try to bring the fire under control were working to build a fire line amid the thick, bone-dry oak brush late in the afternoon.
They were caught off guard when the fire spotted below them, and began racing up the steep ridge just west of Canyon Creek, sending the firefighting crews scrambling.
Some made it over the ridge just in time, others deployed fire shields without success. Fourteen of them didn’t make it.
Following the tragedy, residents of Glenwood Springs made a pledge that this city would never forget the sacrifice made by the brave men and women who came from out of state to fight the fire.
Several of them were college-age students who spent their summers fighting fires as part of the prestigious ranks of the Prineville (Oregon) Hotshots.
What was officially labeled as the South Canyon Fire also became a case study for future firefighting efforts and helped establish new protocols to maintain firefighter safety.
Around Glenwood Springs, support for the firefighters who remained on scene to fight the fire came in many ways, from organizing meals, to supplying clean towels, to providing a relatively new technology at the time, cellphones, so that they could stay in touch with their families.
“We were all in shock that these young lives had been taken to protect us,” longtime resident Alex Yajko said during an interview as part of the Post Independent’s 20th anniversary coverage of the tragedy in 2014.
“What was really remarkable was that the community came together in a most amazing way, as many communities do in times of tragedy,” she said.
Yajko went on to serve on the original memorial committee to establish what became the Storm King monument in Two Rivers Park, and the Storm King Memorial Trail, which provides an interpretive hike up to the fire area.
Around town, purple ribbons became the community’s tribute to the fallen firefighters, and remain today as a symbol of respect and remembrance of that day 23 years ago.