The 20th anniversary of the South Canyon Fire, which claimed the lives of 14 firefighters, will not pass unnoticed in Glenwood Springs.
The interagency South Canyon Fire 20th Anniversary Commemoration Committee, with funding from the Wildland Firefighter Foundation, has arranged a ceremony at 5 p.m. Sunday, July 6, in Two Rivers Park, following an engine procession. Due to limited parking, people are encouraged to walk across pedestrian bridge from downtown. Speakers will include Bureau of Land Management fire representative Todd Richardson, regional forester Daniel Jiron, City Councilmen Stephen Bershenyi and Southern Ute Tribe spiritual leader Kenny Frost.
In the morning, around 300 relatives of the fallen firefighters will make the trip up the memorial trail to the site of the fire, where 14 crosses mark where the firefighters died.
Organizers ask that locals be respectful and yield the route.
“A lot of people around here like to visit Storm King Mountain on July 6, but this year we’re asking them to visit on another day, just because we have so many family members coming,” said Bureau of Land Management spokesperson David Boyd. The BLM administers the land where the fire took place and has spearheaded this year’s commemoration effort.
That doesn’t mean locals and visitors alike shouldn’t find time to make the trip.
“I think it transforms anybody who takes the time and the trouble to hike that trail,” said U.S. Forest Service representative Bill Kight.
Kight, who served as safety officer for the Type III team assigned to the fire in wake of the disaster, emphasized the importance of memory.
“This community said, ‘We will not forget.’ When you make a promise like that, you need to keep it.” he said. “Our job is to make sure that we don’t forget in a way that honors the fallen firefighters, their friends, their families and also those people that survived.”
Fifty firefighters were on Storm King Mountain the afternoon of July 6, 1994, when what had been a relatively small fire blew up and went from the bottom of the gulch to the top in just two minutes.
Eric Hipke was the last of 36 to make it out alive, though hardly unscathed. He and other survivors have worked to make sure the lessons of the fire are passed on.
The commemoration’s website, www.southcanyonfire.com, contains several links to lessons learned by the South Canyon Fire, including a pair of videos put together by Hipke that provide insights for firefighters and civilians alike.
The website also hosts additional information on the fire, including bios the Storm King 14, a map of the memorial trail, an up-to-date event schedule, and a place for donations to the event and the Storm King 14 Scholarship Fund.
Those wishing to show their appreciation for the firefighters and their families can also display the wildland firefighters’ purple ribbon.
Boyd said the disaster made a big difference in how wildland firefighting is conducted.
“Relationships among state, local, and federal agencies in this area have improved and are exemplary as a result of that tragedy,” he said.
In particular, fire agencies emphasize communication and encourage firefighters to speak up if they’re not comfortable with a situation.