The 15th anniversary of a tragedy |

The 15th anniversary of a tragedy

Dale Shrull
Glenwood Springs, CO Colorado

Today marks the 15th anniversary of the Storm King Fire, one of the most tragic days in the history of wildland firefighting.

On July 6, 1994, 14 firefighters died.

It started as a small smoldering fire from a lightning strike. The small fire at the top of a hill near the Canyon Creek housing area then grew. As winds picked up, the fire suddenly came to life and the dry grass, brush and trees were the perfect fuel for the blaze to quickly grow out of control.

Crews from around the West were called in. Winds continued to fan the blaze, then the fire blew up. Winds propelled the blaze up the mountainside at an unfathomable speed.

It was the perfect recipe for disaster.

The Storm King Fire and the tragic deaths of 14 firefighters will remain a dark and unforgettable chapter in the history of firefighting as well as this region.

There are two places where the fire and the Storm King 14 are remembered. The Storm King Memorial at Two Rivers Park and the Storm King Trail near Canyon Creek. Both places have photos and small bios of the fallen firefighters. Other information about the fire are also at the two locations.

The trail is a difficult hike that gives visitors a small glimpse of the physical nature of firefighting. The photos and bios of the Storm King 14 are located at the base of the trail. At the top of the trail are 14 marble crosses at the site of each fallen firefighter. It is truly an emotional trek. To see the firefighting mementos left by other crews and visitors is heartwarming; to see how close some of the firefighters came to the top of the ridge before the fire caught them is heartwrenching. Seeing the smiling faces in their photographs serves as a sobering reminder of how fragile life can be.

More than 30 other firefighters made it to safety that day.

Each summer, hundreds, maybe thousands hike the trail. Many of those are firefighters who stop to pay their respects on their way through to fight another blaze somewhere. The brotherhood of firefighters is a powerful one.

It’s hard to believe that it’s been 15 years since that fire shocked us with the tragic news that 14 had died.

The landscape that was scorched in 1994 has returned to life. Thick scrub oak and healthy vegetation leave little trace that a deadly wildfire was ever there 15 years ago.

But on the mountainside, amidst the vegetation are the 14 crosses with 14 names.

Storm King will always be a tragic reminder to the dangers of wildland firefighting. The memorial in Two Rivers and the trail are there so we won’t soon forget that tragic day, and especially the 14 who gave their lives fighting a fire in our backyard.

Today is the anniversary of this tragedy and today is the day we should take a moment to remember those 14 courageous firefighters.

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