Vidakovich column: Remembering July 6, 1994
“Hey Mike, have you checked in at home lately?”
The day was losing its light on that July 6th of the year 1994. I was on the outdoor courts conducting a practice at the Mesa College basketball camp in Grand Junction with a group of Glenwood Demon basketball players when I saw camp director Doug Schakel and his assistant, Jim Heaps, walking my way with concerned looks on their faces. At first, I feared something had happened to a family member back home. The Lady Demons who surrounded me also thought it a bit peculiar that these two men would be paying us a special visit at that time of the day.
“We just got word that the fire up your way is out of control. A bunch of firefighters were killed today and they are evacuating parts of West Glenwood.”
My heart had already dropped into my drawers before Schakel had even gotten the last words out of his mouth. My parents’ home, and mine, were in West Glenwood near the base of Storm King Mountain.
I put my assistant coach Rich Law in charge of the Demons, and I rushed into the dormitory at the college to call home to see what was going on. Was my house still standing? Were my parents OK? What about our pets? A million thoughts rushed through my mind as I got no answers from the several calls that I placed. This was before the age of rampant cell phone use, so I was left in the dark as to what was happening in Glenwood as I quickly told my players I had to leave, and I jumped into the school district van and headed east up I-70.
Though it has now been almost 25 years since that drive home in the darkness of early July, I will never forget the images that are forever seared into my mind as I passed New Castle and the backside of the big mountain came into view.
My first thought was that my house must surely be a goner as the burning west side of Storm King resembled the up-close pictures of the sun that we see in scientific journals. The fire was perilously close to the interstate as I watched trees and bushes igniting before my very eyes. It was a magical fireworks display that I had no use for and didn’t care to witness. I took the West Glenwood exit and prepared for the worst as I neared my house.
There was a roadblock set up near the mall, but I was allowed to pass through when I told the officer that my house was just up the road. A few blocks after turning on Donegan Road, I realized that things were OK when my house and my parents’ home came into view. The fire was not quite halfway down the east side of Storm King Mountain, so it was still over a quarter of a mile from where I lived.
There was a car in my driveway as I pulled into home base. Scott Bolitho had entered my house and was gathering up every valuable he could find in case the blaze continued to make ground and threaten my home. He told me my parents were safe and sound, and then we both laughed as I looked into the bag he was carrying with my “valuables.” There wasn’t a whole lot in the bag other than a few insurance papers and some trinkets of memorabilia. I didn’t own much at that time, and that was OK with me. Everyone was safe, and my house was still standing, for the time being.
I was told at the roadblock that I was to gather what belongings I could quickly, and get out. Get out of West Glenwood. There was no way I was leaving, though.
Following Scott’s departure and checking in with my parents, I sat out on my back deck for most of the night and watched the fire. It was not gaining ground at all. The strong, gusty winds of the day that had caused so much destruction had subsided, and an unusual chill for a July evening had settled over the valley.
After a few hours of nodding off on my deck, and the sky starting to lighten, I decided to make the journey back to Grand Junction. The word was that the fire in my area was under control, and I wanted to see my team again on the last day of camp.
There were still many touch-and-go situations following that awful day of July 6, but the worst damage had been done, especially when it came to the lives of the 14 brave firefighters who were far from home, and perished protecting our homes and well-being.
I think I can speak for the entire community of Glenwood in thanking the Storm King 14 once again. I can’t begin to imagine what they must have gone through that day up on the mountain as winds swirled flames in all directions, blocking every escape route they may have tried to take.
Not a day goes by that I don’t look up at that mountain, which is just now starting to green over from many of its burn scars. I run near the base of Storm King many mornings a week, seeing the turkeys and the elk, and other creatures of the early morning. I’m thankful that I have the opportunity to do so in such beautiful surroundings.
It’s been almost 25 years, but I will never forget July 6, 1994, or the people who gave their lives to keep us all safe.
Mike Vidakovich is a freelance sports reporter for the Post Independent.
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