The ultimate sacrifice
Once again, Garfield County finds itself the center of national media attention of the kind it would rather not have.
The loss of homes June 8 in Glenwood Springs was bad enough. But the June 21 van accident that killed five firefighters near Parachute stings like hot ashes for a county that has seen all too much death associated with wildfires.
In 1976, four wildland firefighters died battling a blaze near Battlement Mesa.
Far more deeply etched in the minds of local residents are the 1994 deaths of 14 firefighters on Storm King Mountain west of Glenwood Springs. The eighth anniversary of that catastrophe will be marked Saturday, July 6.
And now comes the painful loss of a group of firefighters who were traveling on Interstate 70 to the Hayman Fire west of Denver when their vehicle went out of control and rolled repeatedly. Those firefighters were from Oregon, the same state that was home to nine of the firefighters killed on Storm King.
Wildfires seem to have it in for Oregon firefighters, and they seem to have it in for our region. In 1999, several Battlement Mesa homes were lost to a grass fire. And on June 8, the Coal Seam Fire did what the Storm King Fire came up short of doing, by inflicting heavy property damage in Glenwood.
But of course, there’s no comparing the Coal Seam Fire to the Storm King Fire. Everyone who lost their home June 8 at least escaped with their lives, unlike those on Storm King.
And now we have five more who have perished, far from dangerous flames, but still because of wildfire. Even as area residents had been expressing thanks that the Coal Seam Fire at least had claimed no lives, suddenly these firefighters died among us, on their way to try to protect other Colorado communities.
Their deaths are yet another reminder of the risks others subject themselves to on behalf of western communities during fire seasons.
Those risks exist not only on the firelines, but in getting to the fires, and in fighting them from the air.
As I watched numerous airplane and helicopter assaults on the Coal Seam Fire, I thought often of how dangerous that aspect of firefighting is. One of the four 1976 Battlement Mesa deaths involved a pilot whose slurry bomber crashed. This summer, the catastrophic mid-air breakup of a slurry bomber cost more firefighter lives elsewhere in the West.
But firefighters also die in the line of duty in far more ordinary but just as deadly ways, due to everything from heart attacks to car crashes.
Whatever the circumstances, the sacrifice such firefighters make for the rest of us remains the ultimate one. And our hearts go out to their families.
Once again, others have given their lives on behalf of Coloradans. Having witnessed such tragedy before, we in Garfield County know more intimately than most what a heartwrenching sacrifice that is for them and their families. That knowledge only adds to the depth of our gratitude.
– Dennis Webb, News Editor
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