Storm King Mountain sits a few miles northwest of the city of Glenwood Springs, Colorado, a picturesque place rich in scenic beauty and history; and the site of the 1994 South Canyon Fire that tragically took the lives of 14 wildland firefighters. It’s a fire that many say changed wildland firefighting forever.
Two years ago my husband and I set out to hike Storm King. I’ve wanted to make the hike for as many years as I can remember after hearing dozens of friends and coworkers share their experience of making the emotion-filled trek up the steep terrain. The Memorial Trail was built by volunteers as a tribute to the men and women who perished July 6, 1994.
As we left the parking lot, and started down the path towards the trailhead we came upon interpretive signage honoring the fourteen men and women that perished on that summer day twenty years ago. Each life honored with an individual tribute featuring a photo and details of their short-lived lives highlighting who they were and where they were from. It was a very somber stop and as I wiped the tears away we continued upward with the names and faces of each repeatedly running thru my head throughout the entire hike. They included the Prineville Hotshots from Oregon all in their 20’s: Kathi Beck – 24; Tami Bickett – 25; Scott Blecha – 27; Levi Brinkley – 22; Doug Dunbar – 22; Terri Hagen – 28; Bonnie Holtby – 21; Rob Johnson – 26; Jon Kelso – 27, and in addition to the Prineville group were smokejumpers Don Mackey – 34; Roger Roth – 31 and Jim Thrash – 44 and helitack crew members Robert Browning – 28 and Richard Tyler – 33. I kept telling my husband Paul that for me their young ages somehow made it even more tragic; many the same ages as our own three kids. The pain of their families and friends is completely unimaginable!
Signage along the route details events of the South Canyon Fire and wildland firefighting. At about a mile up the trail sits an observation point where you can see across the ridge to where the firefighters were working that day. This is the point where we made a decision to turn around due to threatening lightning, but had we been able to continue we would have come upon the memorials left behind to remember the fallen. Items like baseball caps, fire department t-shirts and patches, scarves and other memorabilia left by those paying tribute. Further down the trail are memorial sites with crosses placed where each firefighter lost their lives.
Early in the morning on this Sunday, around 300 relatives of the fallen firefighters will make the trip up the memorial trail to the site of the fire, where 14 crosses stand in the place where each died; and at 5 p.m. following an engine procession a ceremony will be held in Glenwood’s Two Rivers Park.
If you're ever traveling down I-70 west of Glenwood Springs make sure you stop and pay tribute to the fourteen fallen firefighters and keep thier families and friends in your thoughts.