History Channel airs program based on 1994 Storm King Fire
“As a fire up a hillside closes in, everything becomes a mode of exhaustion – fear, thirst, terror, a twitch in the flesh that still has preference to live, all become simply exhaustion.”
-Norman Maclean, “Young Men and Fire”
“Fire on the Mountain,” based on John Maclean’s book about the 1994 Storm King Mountain Fire in Glenwood Springs that killed 14 firefighters, will premiere at 9 p.m. Monday, Oct. 28, on the History Channel.
On July 6, 1994, Chicago Tribune reporter John Maclean heard news reports about a tragedy on Storm King Mountain in Colorado. Fourteen firefighters had been killed after a 50-acre brush fire blew up into a 2,000-acre inferno in a late afternoon windstorm.
Six weeks later, John Maclean read the official report, which stated the victims were partly responsible for their own deaths. Yet, there seemed to be too many factors ignored or covered up. Maclean decided to investigate what really happened on Storm King and publish the truth for the whole world to read.
Maclean investigated the Storm King tragedy because he felt he owed it to his late father, author Norman Maclean, who spent the last 14 years of his life fixated on another fire that claimed the lives of 12 smokejumpers and a wilderness guard at Mann Gulch, Montana in 1949. Norman Maclean’s book about the tragedy, “Young Men and Fire,” was a wake-up call for everyone who served on the fire-line.
Yet, 45 years later, John Maclean realized that the Storm King tragedy was an exact mirror image of the tragedy at Mann Gulch, and he wanted to know how it could have happened again.
“Fire on the Mountain” follows John Maclean as he pieces together the mysteries surrounding the Storm King tragedy to discover the truth. The official report blamed the tragedy on the firefighters and their “can-do” attitude. Maclean saw this as inaccurate and insulting to the memory of those who had died. He undertook to find answers to three major questions:
1. Why did the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) wait three days before undertaking to fight the fire, especially given its proximity to a major interstate highway and a housing subdivision?
2. Why did the 49 experienced firefighters on Storm King get fooled so badly by a fire that was the twin of the historic Mann Gulch, especially when they recognized at the time the similarities to Mann Gulch?
3. Why did Don Mackey, the smokejumper in charge, go back to save others when he was safe himself and already had directed eight other people to safety?
John Maclean pieces together the events of July 2 through July 6, 1994 to discover the answers to these questions.
“Fire on the Mountain” features John Maclean’s candid conversations with the survivors of the tragedy and the families of the victims, as well as the investigators and administration who were in charge at the time of the tragedy.
Maclean returns to Storm King eight years after the fire to retrace the final moments of the people who died and to finally put to rest the spirit of his father who was demanding he find answers to this mystery.
Six-hundred firefighters, family and friends of the men and women who died in the second deadliest forest fire in American history gave a thumbs-up following a special preview of the documentary and fundraiser for the Storm King 14 Scholarship Fund in Missoula, Mont. on Oct. 11.
The Missoula fundraiser provided an additional $5,048 to the Storm King 14 Memorial Endowed Scholarship, administered through the Colorado Mountain College Foundation, including a $3,500 gift from the History Channel.
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