Wildland firefighter recalls memorial to 14 fallen firefighters

A memorial tree
A memorial tree(Troy Fronczek | Troy Fronczek)
Published: Jul. 6, 2022 at 6:04 PM MDT
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GLENWOOD SPRINGS, Colo. (KJCT) - July 6, 2022 marks the 28th anniversary of a wildland fire in Colorado that claimed the lives of 14 firefighters.

The lightning-sparked South Canyon Fire started small on July 2, 1994. It claimed just 3 acres by July 4. But local authorities called in special teams – smokejumpers, hotshots and helitack – to help get it under control before it got too close to private property. Among the teams, the Prineville Hotshots as well as smokejumpers from Missoula and McCall.

But on July 4, a dry cold front tore through Storm King Mountain and the fire jumped the fireline and raced toward fire crews. Twelve could not outrun the flames. Two died further away when flames overtook them.

Grand Junction’s Troy Fronczek remembers a training hike to the memorial for the men and women lost on the job. It’s called the Storm King Mountain Memorial Trail and it closely follows the path firefighters hiked to fight the blaze. Once there you can see markers for those lost, mementos and items left behind. Two trees stand as a stark reminder of the fire’s fury. Each is decorated with items left from other fire crews. Fronczek describes the trail as difficult and the memorial as somber.

The firefighters lost were Kathi Beck, Tamera Bickett, Scott Blecha, Levi Brinkley, Robert Browning, Doug Dunbar, Terri Hagen, Bonnie Holtby, Rob Johnson, Jon Kelso, Don Mackey, Roger Roth, Jim Thrash, and Richard Tyler.

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