Storm King 14 remembered
Robert E. Browning Jr. was born Aug. 12, 1966, in Marion, North Carolina. He was a graduate of McDowell High School and Haywood Technical College where he received a degree in forest management.
In 1988 Rob was employed by the U.S. Forest Service in Ashville, N.C. In 1992 he became a member of the Region 8 Hotshot Crew. He transferred to the Savannah River Forest Station in South Carolina in 1993, where he was an engine operator/firefighter.
Rob was a highly trained firefighter and was on a four-month detail in Grand Junction working on a helitack crew at the time of the South Canyon Fire.
Rob was an outdoorsman and deeply committed to a lifelong career with the U.S. Forest Service. No matter where he was or what he was doing, Rob’s favorite saying was, “I’m just glad to be here.”
Richard Kent Tyler, born Feb. 23, 1961, grew up in Minnesota where he and his four brothers were all Eagle Scouts. After completing his degree in forestry at the University of Minnesota, Rich moved to Grand Junction in 1985 and joined the Western Slope Helitack crew.
In 1986, while responding to a fire, Rich lost four of his co-workers in a fatal helicopter crash. He became the crew’s foreman, emphasizing safety consciousness for his crew, and in every aspect of his job. In May 1994, Rich received the Department of the Interior’s National Aviation Safety Award. Rich established the first heli-rappel program in the Rocky Mountain Area and was instrumental in the development of the Interagency Helicopter Operations Guide.
Rich’s love of the mountains and the outdoors brought him to Colorado. He was an avid skier. He left behind a wife, Patty, and son, Andy. His devotion to the land is demonstrated in his son’s middle name, “Foster,” meaning “keeper of the forest.”
Jim Thrash, 44, of New Meadows, Idaho, grew up in Arizona. He loved baseball and hunting. He and his wife moved to Idaho in 1973. He taught high school Spanish and social studies, and coached varsity baseball. In 1981, after two years on a helitack crew, he joined the smokejumpers. He had 213 jumps.
Jim was very much at home in the backcountry. He and his wife owned and operated a big game hunting business in the mountains of west-central Idaho. Over the years, Jim was a key player in the Idaho Outfitters and Guides Association, serving on the board as vice president and as president.
He established himself as a good listener and reasoned voice, and used those talents to work for the preservation of Idaho’s wild lands and to help outfitters, conservationists and land managers work together. He also understood and respected the role of fire in the ecosystem. Jim left behind his wife and two young children.
Roger Roth, a member of the Oneida tribe of the Iroquois Nation, was born Dec. 17, 1963, in L’Anse, Michigan. After studying at Northern Michigan University, he spent seven summers as a trail crew leader at Isle Royale National Park. Roger began fighting fires in 1989 as a hot shot and then as a smokejumper. He worked winters for the Fish and Wildlife Service at the Florida Panther National Wildlife Refuge and was a private helicopter pilot.
Roger spent many hours fishing and hunting with his friends and family. He could fix anything, or teach others to do the same. He managed the family business, helped friends build houses or fix their vehicles, and enjoyed sewing, cooking and making homemade wine and ice cream. He was a hard worker and volunteered to help with people’s most difficult chores. He was known for his concern for others and his ability to make people laugh. Roger never met a stranger, only new friends.
Don Mackey, born May 23, 1960, grew up in western Montana and graduated from Hamilton High School in the Bitterroot Valley. Don loved the mountains and the open spaces. He hunted, fished and trapped from an early age and was very good at it. Don’s first love was his family, and when he wasn’t working his two children were always with him. He took them horseback riding and taught them to shoot.
Don started firefighting in 1984 on the Bitterroot National Forest and was a hotshot in 1985 and 1986. He became a Missoula smokejumper in 1987 and after jumping for eight years, received a career appointment. Don took great pride in being a smokejumper and was very dedicated to his job and crew. When the South Canyon Fire blew up, Don directed eight smokejumpers to a safe zone. He died doing what he did best — fighting fires. His loyalty and concern for his fellow firefighters will always be remembered.
Jon R. Kelso, 27, grew up in Prineville, Oregon. He was active in sports and music at Crook County High School, where he was on the boys golf team, managed the 1984 state championship football team, taught swimming, was a lifeguard, and sang in choirs and musicals. He had a degree in wildlife sciences from Oregon State University and had just completed his first year of a degree in civil engineering with straight A’s. Jon began fighting fires in 1985 as a hotshot, and was a smokejumper and a squad boss for the Prineville Hotshot sawyers.
Jon enjoyed the outdoors, hunting, music, golf, skiing and woodworking. He was a perfectionist and a craftsman who appreciated quality in both possessions and relationships. He loved children, his family, and the comradeship of friends. He will be remembered for his honesty, openness and sensitivity to other people’s feelings and needs. Jon lived his life philosophy of “Don’t hurry, don’t worry. Take time to smell the flowers!”
Rob Johnson, born Oct. 20, 1967 grew up in Roseburg, Oregon, graduating among the top 10 percent of his high school class. He graduated with honors in 1991 from Oregon State University with a Bachelor of Science in business administration and was in the rare 4 percent of those who pass the Certified Public Accounting exam on their first try. He began fighting fires in 1987 to finance his education and joined the Prineville Hotshots in 1992. His brother joined the same crew in 1994 and was also fighting the South Canyon Fire.
A bout with Guillain Barré syndrome briefly paralyzed Rob. However, his strong, yet humble, goal-oriented personality enabled him to fight back and become even more physically fit. He was an avid skier, working winters in Vail to be close to the slopes. He enjoyed his family, hunting, fishing, water skiing, golf, soccer, reading, playing piano and pool. Rob’s quick wit, smile, perceptivity, and zest for life will be greatly missed.
Bonnie Jean Holtby, born May 25, 1973, in Wenatchee, Washington, lived most of her life in Redmond, Oregon. During high school she was active in basketball, track, cross country and weight training, and had received scholar-athlete awards. She was also involved in 4-H and had a dairy project for six years, hand-milking her cows twice a day. Bonnie was a third generation firefighter and was in her third season with the Prineville Hotshots. She loved being part of a team, whether it was as an athlete in school or fighting fires with her “Shots.” Those she worked with appreciated her contribution to crew morale, giving her sustained performance awards for “maintaining a positive attitude, even under the ugliest of work conditions.”
Bonnie was competitive, helpful, loved teaching children, and was a true friend to all ages. Deep religious conviction brought into her life strength and loyalty for both natural and spiritual endeavors.
Terri Ann Hagen, an enrolled member of the Onondaga tribe of the Iroquois Nation, was born March 18, 1966. Terri served in the Army as a medic and completed airborne training with the National Guard. She was a senior at Oregon State University completing a B.S. in entomology and a B.A. in history.
Terri loved the outdoors, had a great curiosity about the natural world, and spent her life learning, working and playing there. She mountain biked, rafted, caved, hiked, hunted, played basketball, taught swimming, and was a rodeo team roper. She loved animals, and had a variety of pets and her own little humane society. She demanded a great deal of herself and believed in working for the greater good. As a hot shot, she was part of an elite team with equally high expectations. Terri will be remembered for her intelligent and energetic spirit and her compassion and sensitivity for her family, friends and all living creatures.
Douglas Michael Dunbar, born Dec. 29, 1971, was raised in McKenzie Bridge, Oregon, surrounded by the Cascade Mountains he loved. Doug was an honor student, All Star baseball player, and award-winning saxophonist at McKenzie High School. He was an admired business major, only 15 credits from graduating at Southern Oregon State College.
Doug began fighting fires for the Forest Service in 1990 to finance his education. He loved the camaraderie and hard work, and was in his second year as a Prineville Hot Shot.
Doug had an intense love of family and the outdoors. He was an outstanding skier, and was pursuing a career in the ski industry. Doug had very high expectations for himself, and his beautiful smile and sparkling eyes always inspired those around him to do their best. You could not know Doug without quickly becoming a friend and part of his very large “family.”
Levi Brinkley, 22, was the oldest of triplets and had an older brother. A top student and athlete at Burns High School, Levi was an all-state football player and student body president. He earned an Associate’s degree in psychology from Bend Community College and was pursuing a Bachelor’s degree. At 18, he began fighting fires, first with the Snow Mountain Ranger District, then with the Prineville Hot Shots.
Levi had an insatiable desire to experience life. He loved the outdoors where he worked hard and played hard. He was an avid adventurer who enjoyed bungee-jumping, skydiving, rock climbing, hunting and fishing. He couldn’t wait for the first snow to get his skis on. Levi made friends wherever he went. His sense of humor and deep feeling for others drew people to him. Although Levi’s life was much too short, he had accomplished more than many people twice his age. He left this earth knowing he was very much loved, and without regrets.
Scott Alan Blecha, born Feb. 23, 1967, was raised in Clatskanie High School. After a four-year tour of duty as a U.S. Marine, Scott enrolled at the Oregon Institute of Technology, graduating cum laude with a degree in Mechanical Engineering Technology in June of 1994.
While in college, Scott spent his summers as a Prineville Hot Shot. He loved this job and often talked of the exciting fires, the dangerous fires and the quiet fires, the strenuous work, the crew’s sense of camaraderie and the satisfaction of knowing his efforts were appreciated. He made the work enjoyable for others, his voice ringing out above everyone else’s, encouraging the crew and making jokes. Scott was a proud and driven man with an intense desire to succeed at everything he did. He was a leader and a warrior. He loved his family and friends and always sacrificed for them.
Tamera Jean Bickett was born May 24, 1969. She was raised in Lebanon, Oregon, and was making a home for herself in Powell Butte. Tami was competitive and athletic, participating on cross country and volleyball teams in high school. In her senior year she represented her community as a Strawberry Festival princess. She joined the U.S. Forest Service in 1988 and was a Squad Boss for the Prineville Hot Shots. She enjoyed the hard work and excitement of fire fighting, and the physical demands that challenged her to keep in shape. Even when injuries made her job difficult, she chose to continue because she loved the crew and the satisfaction that came from helping others.
Whatever Tami did, she did with all her heart. She could run a chainsaw or do fine counted cross-stitch equally well. Tami loved spending time with her family. She will be remembered as a friend to all, willing to sacrifice to help others.
Kathi Walsleben Beck was born Sept. 23, 1969, in Portland, Oregon. As a senior earning a psychology degree at the University of Oregon, Kathi was an exceptional student with many dreams and accomplishments. She was extraordinarily physically fit and strong willed, yet kind and gentle-hearted. She was an avid rock and mountain climber and a lover of all living creatures. Following a spiritually enriching experience with Outward Bound, a wilderness adventure group, Kathi dreamed of starting a similar group of her own. She hoped to compile her experiences and design an outdoor recreational therapy program for children.
Kathi gave her life among friends, doing what she loved most-being on top of a mountain protecting the earth and its inhabitants. She will be remembered best in autumn, as the colors of her brilliant hair and spirit are mirrored in the dancing leaves. We will forever miss her giant smile and creative sense of humor.
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Over 75,000 hikers visited Hanging Lake during this year’s peak season. Via signage, the city hopes to point more of those hikers also in the direction of downtown Glenwood Springs.