It’s About Time: Have we forgotten?
July 3, 2018
Perhaps it was rash to make such a promise: "We will never forget."
If you are new to the area or too young to remember, let me explain. The town of Glenwood Springs promised that it would never forget the deaths of 14 firefighters who died on Storm King Mountain on July 6, 1994.
Today, I think about that promise as I pull the two archival acid-free boxes of material collected to commemorate and remember that fateful day from the museum shelves.
Like many boxes of material collected and given to the Frontier Museum, these two boxes have yet to be properly organized or cataloged for public display or research.
As the only full-time staff member of the Glenwood Springs Historical Society, I'm torn a dozen different directions trying to keep the place afloat.
The person assigned to take care of the collections, archivist Sara Francis, works part time because of our organization's funding limitations. Sara keeps extremely busy fulfilling requests from the public asking for assistance finding what they're looking for.
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Pulling items from the boxes, indelible memories come back, like my family standing in the middle of Ponderosa Drive in West Glenwood, along with our neighbors, watching the smoke and fire billow up over the ridges between us and Storm King Mountain.
"Bill, should we leave?" one friend asked. I replied that until the evacuation order was given it would be a good use of time to get the most important items together.
When my wife Linn and daughters Amber, 3, and Shandra, 7, walked back to our home, Linn asked me, "What should we take?"
"Get the girls' pillows and one of their stuffed animals. Everything else can be replaced," I answered, my heart aching for the still missing firefighters.
The call finally came from Grand Junction Dispatch Center, ordering me to the fire as safety officer for the team that will put the fire out.
There are enough memories for a book when I think of the time between sending my family across town to safety, up until the one-year anniversary of the fire — an event for which we prepared for a full year — on July 6, 1995.
Three of us local firefighters were assigned to lead the anniversary effort, directed to thoughtfully and respectfully commemorate the sacrifice those 14 men and women made that fateful day.
No, I will not forget.
From the box of memorabilia, I lay aside the July 10, 1994, Rocky Mountain News Sunday special edition of eight pages on the South Canyon Fire, as it was officially designated. Beneath it was a purple ribbon, saved from one of the hundreds tied to trees all over town.
Next, a CD of the song retired firefighter Jim Hawkins wrote, "Storm King Mountain, When Hell's Fire Broke Through."
Fighting back a strong flood of emotions, I carefully placed the photos where they were, without opening the package they are in. The button, "Trail Volunteer, Storm King Mountain 1994," goes back in the box, and I close the lid.
Last week I signed off on an application for a $5,000 grant we're seeking, that, if awarded, will among other things help pay Sara for the time it will take to properly catalogue these two boxes.
It shouldn't be this hard to keep a promise.
We need your help to show that we haven't forgotten. On September 15, 2018, the Hotel Colorado and Yampah Spa/Hot Springs Vapor Caves are hosting a Big Birthday Bash to celebrate their respective 125th and 120th birthdays. The museum is central to the planning efforts of this event.
The Hotel Colorado has graciously made its Colorado Room available to the Frontier Museum to display Glenwood Springs history. We have a special portable display of the Ute Indians, loaned to us by the Aspen Historical Society, that will be the centerpiece.
We need your help putting together the Storm King Mountain/South Canyon Fire display, or consider making a designated gift to this project, to show that we meant it when we said: We will never forget.
Bill Kight is the executive director of the Glenwood Springs Historical Society and writes a monthly column about history. He can be reached at 970-945-4448.