Paying Tribute to Storm King 14 Firefighters
KREX News Room
GLENWOOD SPRINGS, Colo. As the country mourns the death of 19 firefighters in Arizona, many are also remembering a similar tragedy in Colorado that happened 19 years ago this week. In 1994, 14 firefighters lost their lives fighting the South Canyon Fire, just five miles west of Glenwood Springs.
The memorial gives visitors a unique insight as to what those men and women experienced on the tragic day. As hikers climb Storm King Mountain they can see who's been there to pay respects, firefighters from all over the country and everyday citizens.
"Forty to 50 firefighters missing was the initial reports. It's a sick feeling in your stomach as your responding to that, and not knowing really what your getting into," said Colorado River Fire Rescue Chief Mike Morgan. Morgan was a firefighter in Rifle at the time of the incident.
As the cars below shrink, hikers get a glimpse of the path firefighters trekked through in July of '94. Those who live the job everyday can visit the site and see what exactly went wrong.
Glenwood Springs Fire Chief Gary Tillotson was also a firefighter at the time, "It was another lighting strike not uncommon in the valley, up until it started to grow."
Elite firefighters worked to put out the blaze, among them Hotshots and Smokejumpers. However, a perfect storm of bad conditions changed their course.
As temperatures grew warmer and wind activity increased, the fire intensified. At around 4 p.m. a cold dry front hit the area, causing the fire to explode.
"The plume of smoke you could tell it, you knew things were going bad with the fire," said Morgan.
Thirty-five firefighters higher on the ridge survived that day, while 14 were unable to escape.
"We lost brothers, we lost brothers and sisters," Tillotson said.
"When you see those larger numbers it's very emotional, I think for everyone. Eye-opening to refresh your memory that it can happen," Morgan said.
While the unpredictable is always possible, these men and women continue to serve.
"To take action, to make a difference, and have a positive impact on them and their loved ones, so it truly is about service," said Morgan.
The anniversary of the Storm King Tragedy is July 6.
The memorial trailhead is located off I-70 at exit 109/Canyon Creek. Drive along the frontage road east for about a mile to the trailhead.