Six years ago this weekend, on July 6, I hiked up Storm King Mountain.
I was on a mission.
My journey was nothing like the one experienced by the brave firefighters who risked their lives — and the 14 who lost theirs — battling the wildfire that consumed the rugged South Canyon mountainside in the dry summer of 1994. Thoughts of the Storm King firefighters’ bravery and athleticism humbled me as I took on the hilly hike without the load of heavy equipment and fear of fatal flames. My objective was to make it to the quiet spot where the historical fire overcame the 14 heroes 20 years ago Sunday.
Glenwood Springs will never forget.
A year prior, I had been on assignment at the Western Slope trailhead to cover the annual trek many of the Storm King 14’s loved ones take to memorialize the fallen. That day, on the fire’s 13th anniversary, I met Sandy Dunbar. Her 22-year-old son, Doug, died battling the wildfire as a member of the Prineville (Oregon) Hot Shot Crew. She spoke of his big smile and witty sense of humor.
Just an all-around nice guy.
I also became acquainted with Ken Brinkley, whose 22-year-old son, Levi Brinkley, is also one of the beloved Storm King 14. He camped out the night before hiking the fire trail, starting at 4:30 a.m. to spend some alone time where his son last walked.
The experience is as powerful as it sounds.
Flash forward to 2007, when gas prices were too high for Ken to travel from the Pacific Northwest, so he contacted me by email to ask a favor. It was one I’ll never forget. He asked that in his place I would hike up to the location where Levi took his last breath and sip some Jagermeister in his honor. That was Levi’s drink of choice.
I hiked up to Levi’s clearly marked memorial on July 6, 2008, and we shared a spiritual drink together. I’ll never forget it, or him. I always said I felt a special connection with Levi because we would have been the same age.
But this was more.
In July 1994, I was 22 and having fun. Like Doug and Levi, I, too, had a big smile, witty sense of humor and enjoyed a shot of Jagermeister back then. I was a young, fresh-faced sports writer far from facing the extreme challenges Levi, Doug and the additional 12 Storm King firefighters did that fateful month. Since meeting their parents, I think about Levi and Doug often. They protected a place I will forever love, and I can only be grateful for their sacrifice on this 20th anniversary of the South Canyon fire.
I will never forget.
With Fourth of July and First Friday falling on the same day, Carbondale is doubling the festive fun today. Steve’s Guitars, 19 N. Fourth St., is of course in on the fun, hosting the Comfort Kings at 8 p.m. The Iowa band plays Americana, indie rock and traditional, old-timey bluegrass. My favorite aspect about this band is that, on Facebook, interests include: bars, gigs, gambling parlors, food, puns, leaving, coming home, sports, public radio, Ragstock, coffee, hashtags. Who could go wrong with puns and public radio? Not me. Check out the band at www.facebook.com/comfortkings.
Friday and Saturday
Carbondale’s Thunder River Theatre Company, 67 Promenade, is receiving rave reviews for its adaptation of the 1975 play “American Buffalo,” by David Mamet. In 1996, the street-centric production was adapted to film, starring Dennis Franz as Don, Dustin Hoffman as Teach, and Sean Nelson as Bobby. From the playbill, something tells me this isn’t “Tootsie.” After a successful run at TRTC over the last few weeks, “American Buffalo” is coming to a triumphant close with a July Fourth 2 p.m. matinee and a 7:30 p.m. Saturday night show. Tickets and info are available by calling 963-8200 and visiting www.thunderrivertheatre.com.
The significance of July 6 and the impact of losing 14 firefighters to a tragic wildfire on the community 20 years ago will never subside. On Sunday, head to Two Rivers Park, 740 Devereux Road, in West Glenwood for a memorial ceremony to commemorate the day that forever changed history. The event begins at 4:45 p.m., and more information can be found at www.southcanyonfire.com. Godspeed, Storm King 14.
April E. Clark will be geeking out over sparklers this weekend. She can be reached at email@example.com.