Crosses standing on a hillside in remembrance of 14 fallen firefighters, with several generations of their relatives gathered around, provided the sanctuary on Storm King Mountain Sunday morning as Native American songs carried on the breeze.
Kenny Frost, Southern Ute spiritual leader, gave the blessing and sang as scores of family members and friends of the 14 wildland firefighters killed on the mountain on July 6, 1994, filed up the Storm King Trail on the 20th anniversary of the tragic fire.
“It was incredibly meaningful for my mom and dad to be here, and to make it up here (to the site of the crosses),” said Jim Roth, older brother of Roger Roth, a smokejumper based out of McCall, Idaho who was among the firefighters who died that day.
Wally Roth, 81, made the hike up the fire line trail to the spot where 12 of the 14 crosses are located, while Carol Roth, 78, was able to take a helicopter ride to the ridgetop. The helicopter was provided by the Army National Guard High Altitude Training Site out of Eagle for those who were unable to do the hike.
“You look at how many people died here, and then look at the ripple effect of family members it impacted,” Jim Roth said, motioning to the many siblings, cousins, nieces and nephews who made the trip for this special 20th anniversary occasion.
Many of the younger people on the mountain Sunday had not been born at the time of the tragedy, but the story has been passed down.
Andy Tyler, who turns 21 this week, was just a baby when his dad, Rich Tyler, died on the mountain. He joined aunts and uncles and some of his cousins for the hike up Storm King.
“It’s nice to see all the firefighters up here paying homage,” he said. “It means a lot.”
Jim Tyler, Rich’s brother, said he was also proud of the many firefighters, past and present, who came out to pay their respects.
“This is just a great community to do this for us,” he said of the effort by several local agencies to provide a shuttle and accommodate the families on the mountain, and to organize a special commemorative event in Two Rivers Park this evening.
The event begins with a fire engine parade from West Glenwood to the park between 4:30-4:45 p.m., and a memorial service at 5 p.m. Special speakers will include Frost, BLM fire management officer Todd Richardson, regional forester Daniel Jiron and Glenwood Springs City Councilman Stephen Bershenyi.