Survivors of the Storm King fire tragedy haven’t stopped fighting
The 25th anniversary of the Storm King fire was far more subdued than the public memorial held five years ago. This year, it was all about those who lost family and loved ones on July 6, 1994.
For Jim Roth, the fire shaped the rest of his life. Jim lost his younger brother, Roger Roth, one of the McCall Smokejumpers who perished in the Storm King fire.
Roth used his training as an aerospace engineering to develop better protective equipment for firefighters after his brother died.
He designed a new kind of fire shelter, which didn’t end up being used, and later designed liners for fire trucks.
Roth tries to visit the spot where his brother died every year.
“I reflect on my life, on why I’m still here, and what work I need to do to make firefighters safer,” Roth said. “I come off the mountain more energized because I’ve had a chance to be close to my brother.”
More than 100 family members and friends of the men and women who died, as well as surviving firefighters, gathered in Glenwood Springs for a picnic and a hike up the Storm King Memorial Trail.
“This event 25 years ago shaped what we do in wildland fire, and it changed it forever,” said Rob Burger, Fire Management Officer, for the Upper Colorado River Interagency and Aviation Management Unit. “The promise we made 25 years ago is to never forget those that we lost. We’re going to continue to honor their memory; we’re going to support the survivors and their families,” Burger added.
One of the survivors of the fire, Alex Robertson, kept fighting wildfires after nine of his fellow Prineville Hotshots perished in 1994. He worked as a hotshot for more than a decade, and now is the fire and aviation staff officer for an interagency fire office in Oregon.
Over the past 25 years, he has brought more than 1,000 firefighters to Storm King Memorial Trail to pass along the lessons of the fire.
“The challenge we have is that we cannot just not fight fire, we can’t not put people in harm’s way,” Robertson said. “If we didn’t fight fires, they would burn up towns, and people would lose lives. The challenge is deciding when it’s necessary to put firefighters in danger, and how.
“That balance of when do we put people in harm’s way, that’s the big question. Our fire managers make those decisions every day,” Robertson added.
Firefighters came from across the country to fight the Storm King Fire, and 14 never returned home.
The families want to know that their loved ones are remembered, Roth said.
“In getting to know all these families for all these years, the one solid thing everyone believes in is, always remember what happened here,” Roth said. “Use it as an example to teach our young firefighters so it doesn’t happen again.”
The town of New Castle passed a resolution honoring the men and women who gave their lives in the fire, and Roth also appreciated New Castle’s Hot Shot Park, named in honor of the firefighters.
“The best way to honor them is to remember them, and remember what people did here 25 years ago today,” Roth said.
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