The South Canyon Fire: A Remembrance Five Years Later

Robert M. Winston recalls a fire that killed 14 wildland firefighters in 1994 and focuses on the lessons learned to help prevent another tragedy.


It has been five years since the tragic fire event of July 6, 1994, took the lives of 14 wildland firefighters on Storm King Mountain in South Canyon, Glenwood Springs, CO. In the tragedy's wake, wildland firefighting agencies took an introspective look and reexamined all aspects of firefighter...


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After viewing the memorial, we proceeded to and hiked up to the fire site on Storm King Mountain. They had been there before; I had not. The charred remains of trees dotted the steep landscape. Yet, fire brings renewal and Storm King Mountain was green with new vegetation sprouting up from the ashes left two years earlier by the fire.

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Photo by Robert M. Winston
Two firefighters from Colorado pay their respects to their fallen brothers and sisters on Storm King Mountain.

Then I viewed the crosses that marked the locations where each one of "The Fourteen" was found. I thought, "Why were they here two years ago? What good did it do? What a waste of 14 young firefighters' lives!" I felt a sense of loss, anger and sadness. The firefighters I was with were deeply moved as well.

Annual statistics inform us that too many structural and wildland firefighters are injured or die in the line of duty while operating at wildland and SWI fires. In the first few months of 1999, four structural firefighters paid the "Supreme Sacrifice" while operating at wildfires.

The first fatality occurred a short distance from our own National Fire Academy in Emmitsburg, MD. The next two fatalities occurred in Kentucky. And on April 8, a deputy fire chief from Russell, MA, died while operating at a 1,200-acre SWI fire on a day when a Red Flag Warning was issued for the state.

Wildland firefighting agencies learned some hard lessons from the Storm King Mountain/South Canyon fire tragedy. All of those agencies have reviewed their firefighting and safety operational procedures. Some changes have occurred not only in operations, but in a renewed awareness about the basics of fireground safety and in attitudinal changes in the individual firefighter. They have not forgotten "The Fourteen" brave young men and women wildland firefighters who "gave it their all to protect the lives, property and environment of people they had never met in a place that they had never seen."

In Remembrance Of "The Fourteen"

Prineville, OR Interagency Hotshot Crew

Kathi Beck
Tami Bickett
Scott Blecha
Levi Brinkley
Doug Dunbar
Terri Hagen
Bonnie Holtby
Rob Johnson
Jon Kelso

Helitack Crew

Robert Browning
Richard Tyler

USFS Smokejumpers

Don Mackey
Roger Roth
James Trash


Robert M. Winston, a Firehouse® contributing editor, is a district fire chief in the Boston Fire Department with extensive experience and training in wildland and SWI protection. Questions and comments may be sent to him via e-mail at dfcwins@idt.net